Christmas Tree Tips

by Valle Novak
The day before Christmas is the traditional time for many families to decorate their trees. Trees aren’t too hard to come by, but oftentime the decorations are.If you have no ornaments but want the delight of a Christmas tree, do what the pioneers (and many of us older folks) did, and enjoy the old-fashioned tradition of making your own decorations. Cut a small, pretty tree (with permission, of course) and make a party out of its adorning.

Pop great batches of popcorn, munching on bowls of buttered and salted kernels, but stringing the rest with heavy thread into long garlands. Too, string a couple of packages of cranberries to drape on the tree interspersed with the white popcorn. Finish off with pinecones you’ve gathered – sprayed with gold paint, if desired – and top the tree with a bunch of Oregon grape with gilded leaves. You can also spray-paint peanuts, stringing them as well.

The bright old construction paper chains were neat, but it’s pretty expensive now. However, colored paper is still a viable possibility for the kids to have fun with. If you’ve saved old Christmas wrap (remember, it has to be fairly stout to hold a ring-shape) let the children cut it into strips and staple or glue into bright garlands.

Kitchen foil works well too, but doesn’t hold well with glue or tape. You can staple it into rings, or better yet, simply cut it into narrow strips and hang like icicles from the branches. Just wind the top around the branch and twist together to hold. Shiny and sparkly. Cut the hanging ends into icicle-like points if you wish.

Tissue paper is inexpensive. Get red, white and green and cut into wide strips. Then working carefully to avoid tearing, make bows with streamers, tying with string rather than trying to tie the paper itself. If you have lights, they shine beautifully through the tissue.

Or, how about a cookie-bake? Make gingerbread boys and girls or special “heavy-duty” cookies that won’t crumble (We have three recipes to choose from). Decorate with frosting with Santa or snowman faces, wreath designs or simply frost in bright colors to serve as ornaments. Use a knitting needle or metal skewer to pierce each cookie 1/4-inch from the edge after they’re slightly cooled, and pull yarn, pretty narrow satin ribbon, bright raffia ribbon, or even garden twine through to tie on branches.

Other ideas from prior years include:

* If you’re decorating with cookies, how about hanging the cookie cutters as additional ornaments?

* A Christmas card tree – most of us have saved cards that are special to us or exceptionally pretty. Punch a hole at the corner, thread with bright yarn or even twine and adorn the tree with them.

* Use antique jewelry or costume jewelry pieces as tree decorations. Pin or tie them to a pretty velvet bow or satin ribbon and attach to branches.

* In lieu of ornaments, decorate your tree with bows. Bright red, gold or silver. Boxes of old wrappings generally have left-over bows or even the crinkle-type ribbon that curls and drapes beautifully. Do you have a loved one in the service? How about yellow ribbons?

* A gardener may want to display his/her love of flowers with a tree of flocked roses, artificial flowers or poinsettias.

* Remember that huge packages of candy canes are available at very little cost. These are ideal tree decorations, and nice to give to visiting youngsters. Tie a pretty bow to each if you wish for additional eye-appeal.

Here are three recipes for ornament cookies – two edible, the final one not.

Gingerbread cookies

(Makes about 40 cookies)

5 to 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons ginger 2 teaspoons cinnamon 1 teaspoon nutmeg 1 teaspoon cloves 1 cup shortening 1 cup sugar 1 1/4 cups unsulphered molasses 2 eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. thoroughly mix flour, soda, salt and spices. Melt shortening in large saucepan. Cool slightly, then add sugar, molasses and eggs, mixing well. Add four cups of the flour mixture and mix well.

Turn mixture onto lightly floured surface. Knead in remaining dry ingredients by hand. Add a little more flour, if necessary, to make a firm dough. Roll out on a lightly floured surface to a 1/4-inch thickness.

If you’re not going to use the dough right away, wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate. It will keep for one week, but be sure to remove it 3 hours prior to rolling so it softens and is workable.

Dip cutters in flour and cut, removing excess dough. Make features with pastry tips or tip of small sharp knife, if desired. For ribbon tie, cut two holes with a drinking straw side-by-side at neck. Bake 6-10 minutes or until lightly browned. Re-pierce holes if necessary. Let cool on sheet for 2-3 minutes, then carefully remove with large spatula to cool on wire rack. When cool, decorate with frosting if desired (though it’s not necessary), thread ribbon through neck and tie on tree branches or store in a cool, dry place.

Ornament cookies

1/2 cup sugar 1/4 cup butter, softened 1 teaspoon vanilla 1 egg 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/8 teaspoon baking soda Sugar or colored sugar Ribbon

Heat oven to 375 degrees. In large bowl, combine 1/2 cup sugar, butter, vanilla and egg. Blend well. Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup, level off. Stir in flour, salt and baking soda, mix well. On lightly floured surface, roll out half of dough at a time to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut with floured cookie cutters of choice. Place 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets, sprinkle with sugar. Using drinking straw, punch holed 1/4-inch from top edge of cookies. Bake for 5-9 minutes or until set but NOT brown. Cool 1 minute, then remove from baking sheet. Cool completely. Insert ribbons or yarn in holes for hanging.

Our last (non-baked) recipe is NOT edible, but fragrant and delightful as ornaments and wreathes.

Scented cinnamon tree ornaments

1 4-ounce can (about 1 cup) cinnamon 1 tablespoon cloves 1 tablespoon nutmeg 1/4 cup applesauce 2 tablespoons white glue Ribbon

In medium bowl, combine cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Add applesauce and glue, stir to combine. Work mixture with hands 2 to 3 minutes or until dough is smooth and ingredients are thoroughly mixed. Divide into four portions. On floured surface, roll each portion to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut dough with floured cookie cutters of desired shapes. Using cocktail-type toothpick or a skewer, make a small hole in the top of each ornament. Place cutouts on wire racks and allow to dry at room temperature for several days.

Thread ribbon through holes and use as single ornaments or thread together as garlands (to do this, you should punch two holes side by side for threading). Intersperse with bright jingle bells if you wish (available at craft stores).

Originally published 12/24/00 in the Bonner County Daily Bee