Plan your peaceful Christmas: celebrate with handmade decor

I love decorating our home for the holidays. Unfortunately, this year, most of our decor is in boxes 6,000 miles away. When our family made a month-long trip back to the States for a conference, we didn’t know that health issues would keep us here longer, then ultimately relocate us back to our home country.

That’s a whole other story I can share sometime.

All our uprooting meant we could only afford for Kyle to make a trip back from one week in March, to collect as many of our items as we could cram in his allotted luggage space (plus a few more boxes). This meant that non-essentials, like Christmas decor, had to wait.

We hope to retrieve the rest of our belongings when our finances allow, so in the meantime, this means our holiday decor this year is mostly handmade. I refuse to buy more stuff when we have plenty in storage.

This is fine by me, because I honestly love the look of homemade decor. Plus, it’s been a fun way to bond with my kiddos, as we create and craft together.

I thought it would be fun to show you a few of our projects around the house.  Here are some simple ways we’ve decorated around our home, handmade-style.

1. String balls

These are exactly what they sound like — balls made of string. Blow up some water balloons (not too much, to keep them small), wrap any form of string around them haphazardly, then cover with a mixture of equal parts white glue and water. Let it get really dry — probably overnight — then when they’re hard, pop the balloon.

Water balloons are best because they tend to be more evenly round and smaller than traditional balloons.

Thin string is best (I used crochet yarn, but you can even use sewing thread), and it’s easiest to dab the glue mixture with a cheap sponge brush.

The kids loved this project, though I wrapped the string around for them. The tighter, the better.

These balls make great ornaments or Christmas light covers, or string a line of them together for bunting.

2. Felted garland

Hooray for free decor!

I felted an old wool sweater of mine (washed on hot and threw it in the dryer).

Then I cut it into pieces, let the kids toss it around for awhile, and then threaded it on dental floss.

3. Paper leaf wreath

The kids wanted to make decor for their rooms, so they made wreaths for their door by using a cardboard circle with the center cut out and scrapbook paper leaves and berries. I joined them and cut out a slightly larger wreath form from a spare piece of cardboard.

Couldn’t be simpler.

4. Jesse Tree au naturel

We’re celebrating the Advent of Christmas with Ann Voskamp’s beautiful A Jesus Advent Celebration. Every year I plan to make felted Jesse Tree ornaments, and every year I run out of time.

But instead of skipping the family tradition, I just flex and have the kids color these printable ornaments. This keeps them involved anyway.

For our tree this year, we gathered some branches with a lot of twig offshoots, “planted” them with rocks in a simple terra cotta pot we already had, and covered the rocks with dollar store moss. I just drizzled white glue on the moss, and this secured it enough. I wrapped the top of the pot with simple ribbon, and voila — a simple Jesse Tree for about $1 (half a package of sheet moss and a few inches of ribbon).

Tate thinks our tree looks like a moose going for a jog — the branches are its antlers, the ribbon is its sweatband, and the pot is its head. Silly girl.

5. Clothespin card holder

To display our received Christmas cards, I hung a piece of ribbon and secure them on with clothespins.

This is really the anti-craft — it took about five minutes.

6.  Books

Finally — a non-craft.  We’re huge book readers, so I gather the Christmas and winter-themed picture books and separate them into this wire basket.

It’s kept by our tree for easy-access reading all season long. Plus, the illustrations add instant — and free — decor.

We also may do the typical popcorn string garland, pipe cleaner candy cane ornaments, and the random tree branches here and there. I’d love to make a felted square garland, if time allows.  We’ll see — easy is good.

Simple, handmade decor works. It’s frugal, it’s personal, and it’s fun to create together as a family.

This post was sponsored by Oak Meadow, a little company that has offered innovative, creative, and independent learning materials for homeschooling families around the world for 35 years. They’ve got it all, from kindergarten through high school!

What are your favorite handmade ways to decorate for the holidays? Feel free to share links to your favorite crafts or tutorials in the comments section — I love finding new craft ideas!

top photo source
Tsh Oxenreider

Tsh is the founder of this blog and just finished traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

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  1. I’m going to try the felted garland idea this year!

  2. Tsh, I hope all will be well for you and your family soon. It’s always hard when something unexpected happens and one has to suddenly change direction completely.

    I think your decor looks great. I want to try the yarn balls some time.

    Last year a friend taught me to make stunning paper snowflakes. They are quite big and are real show-stoppers. I just posted a tutorial on my blog. Check it out if you like.

    Wishing you a very merry Christmas!

  3. I love these ideas – especially the yarn balls. May try that this weekend. We also display Christmas/winter books and I’ve taped our Christmas cards around door frames. I recently made an impulsive craft – a Christmas tree from old wine bottle corks. I laid them on their sides, and glued with a hot glue gun. The bottom has twelve corks, and I just kept stacking until I got to one at the top. I’ll show a picture and blog about it on 12/15 – come check it out!

  4. all great ideas, but I love the string balls!

  5. I looked around the house this year and came to the realization that almost every one of my decorations were handmade at some point or other over the years. It makes them more special to know that either my mother or myself made them. One of my favorite items to decorate are grapevine wreathes that I make from grapevines in our orchard. There are so many things one can do to spruce a grapevine wreath up.

    I will be incorporating your card holder idea. I never know what to do with them. Thank you for the suggestion. And your string ball idea is great for making eggs come Easter – just use regular style balloons and blow them up large!

  6. Now this is what Christmas is all about. Love it!

  7. Roll the string balls in a little glitter to glam it up a bit, if you like. Plus, the dollar store has some great raw materials if you’re willing to work with it!!!

  8. I really love the string balls and plan on doing them sometime in the next week.

    I love origami trees! They are easy to make (just Google the instructions) and look so cute when you make lots of them and put them together to make a forest. On a mantle or table, they are very pretty. A like to use a variety of green, printed paper, but gold trees would be pretty too. You can use origami paper (pretty inexpensive at your local craft store like Michaels) or any thin other paper. I’ve even used wrapping paper.

    And I am one of those Moms that carefully wraps each Christmas craft my children have made over the years and then faithfully displays them each holiday. Those are the best decorations!

  9. I love having our kids color the Jesse Tree ornaments. They are only 3 years old and 18 months old, but their scribbles are so special. Thanks for these other unique ideas.

    BTW, I’m so thankful the giveaways are over. I found myself feeling overwhelmed by the amount of stuff being promoted. I had to stop reading during that time just to keep my heart focused on the simple. I’m sure others enjoyed the giveaways, but it just seemed like an overwhelming amount of stuff was being marketed – especially if we subscribe to several Simple blogs.

    • I agree about being thankful the giveaways are over!

      • I understand, ladies. This is why we try to concentrate them all in one week, just two times per year. We don’t want to constantly inundate you with content about products — but at the same time, running these sites isn’t free. 🙂 I hope you understand.

  10. I have a set of four of those carved wooden santa’s in your top photo. I got those oh….let’s see…cerca 1994.

  11. Great ideas Tsh!

    I am soooo anit-crafty it’s s.a.d.. So some of these ideas may just make it into the plan this year. Or not. We, too, are dealing with the thought-we-were-just-coming-back-to-the-states-for-furlough-but-look!-now-we’re-back-for-good-and-HOW-do-we-live-here-again? life.

    I’m trying not to pout. 🙂 Some days we do really well. Others? Well….I think I may just go make some of these crafts now….


  12. These are all such lovely ideas! Thank you. 🙂

  13. I love the yarn balls! I have 6 grandkids and my daughter is way more crafty than me, but this is something even I could do, lol!

  14. Wonderful, creative simplicity!

  15. Christina Moore says:

    You are so creative! You have inspired my daughter and I to have a craft day this weekend. We’ll definitely be making tons of string balls 🙂 I found this great list of the essential decorations to have around the holidays. Maybe this could inspire some new creations!

  16. Maybe we’ll have to give you a set of Jesse Tree ornaments to review for a giveaway next year. ;o)
    Love all the decorations! Way to go momma. Super cute!

  17. I simply love the string ball idea- I could see sprinkle it with glitter- I love sparkles, but I’m not buying Christmas items from China anymore so I can’t replace my lights when they ‘die’- this would be a great way to add sparkle to the tree!

  18. I love these string balls– I think I’ll have to give them a try. I also love the display of your books. I have Christmas books around the house as well. I love that it gives the kids easy access to them, and has beautiful illustrations of Christmas to add some ambiance to our home.

  19. we are expecting a large snow fall tonight and all day tomorrow… so i had my husband pick up some extra yarn and ballons on his way home… the girls and I will have a blast tomorrow! thanks for the idea 🙂

  20. Oh.., I jst posted abt decorating with what I have rather than running out to buy new stuff. 🙂 I love all your ideas, especially the felt garland and the string balls. For me, I’m going to be decorating with food platters, glass jars and cups filled with flowers and greens and some toddler craft. And if I have the time, I’m definitely going to make these string balls. Love’em.

  21. Great ideas! I especially love the wreath with berries made out of scrapbook paper and the Christmas books in the wire basket. Enjoy your handmade holidays…

  22. I love the string balls! So creative and they look great.

  23. havent’ made these yet but want to –

    just as I do your yarn balls…oh so cool

  24. I love the string balls. I remember doing a very similar project with balloons, crepe paper and laundry starch. We put lights inside of the finished globes.
    Came here to enter my suggestion for Christmas traditions. 🙁
    You can still check it out on my site. We have been doing it for over 20 years and I can safely say it was not me, but rather my wife that created this wonderful tradition that our kids still enjoy.

  25. Tsh, the yarn ornaments are simplicity and beauty encapsulated — I look forward to doing them here — a bit of you with us!

    And a grace that a bit of us joins you with the Jesse Tree! That makes my smile, Tsh…

    Our tradition is always to make 3 or more of these large 3D snowflakes and hang in the living room (I type under them now 🙂 — instant snow, entirely inexpensive, really lovely — and without fail every year, someone asks if we can make a few for them to hang too:

    Grace and peace to you and yours, Tsh…
    (and Lord willing, Relevant11 — you coming made my heart leap! 🙂

  26. Oh my! Smart and lovely decorations! This experience will forever be in your children’s memory chest. Great bonding and very lovely decors!

  27. Thanks so much! I’ve been trying to “think” of some fun things to do with my 7 year old…. now I don’t have to think, lol. These ideas are great – so great that I’m printing this out to put in my binder to come back to year after year!

  28. I never realized I could make those decorative balls so easily, thank you for the great tip!

  29. I love the string balls! I don’t have the materials on hand, but I am definitely going to remember this for next year!

  30. Wonderful. I’m all for not wasting money on Christmas decor and having something homemade. Homemade decor has some magic atmosphere in it, doesn’t it? Oh, and it sure makes the kids proud (they just love to see their work around the house). The funny thing is that I usually use similar string balls as well – I never thought about creating them, so they are all bought. What a waste!

  31. i LOVE these ideas! thank you so much. i am a huge fan of savoring this season and keeping things simple choice.

  32. I love those string balls! What a great and simple idea, and they look very smart too. I think they would also make a lovely hand-made gift to give to others.

  33. Great ideas! I’ve been planning to do the felted garland for next year, and I love the string ball ornament! That would make a great gift for a someone.

  34. I love your string balls!

    My kids love to make paper chains and snowflakes to decorate our school room. Every year my kids look forward to making them. These crafts are so simple that the bigger kids can handle them on their own with the little kids while I do some one-on-one teaching time or grab a buddy to help in the kitchen!

  35. Beth in TX says:

    Where do you buy “water balloons” and not just any old balloons? Especially in winter?

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