Making Family Christmas Decorations

FIRST RULE. There are no rules. If, at the end you have something that you can put a hook (or string) into, mission accomplished. If you like to work with cover stock, glue and then paint – that’s great. If you are a bit fussier (like me) building/cutting prototypes, paper mache-ing and painting – that’s great too. The more you do, the better you will get – and the more ideas you will have. 

SIZE. Decide on a size (or size range) that you can use consistently. You wouldn’t want Dad’s Led Zeppelin album to be 4 inches square and Mom’s Abbey Road album to be a measly two inches. The same goes for books, videos, etc. In general keeping them all 3” and under looks real good on the tree. And remember, at some point in the near future, you will have dozens of memories and stories needing space on that tree.

Books, albums and, this year, cereal boxes waiting to meet their destiny.

BUILD A TEMPLATE. I’m a bit like a machine when I get started. One of my favorite parts is measuring out the patterns on cover stock. This example yields 12 books from one sheet.

Simple template for books. I score along the dotted lines before cutting the books out – makes the folds crisp. I then punch a hole near what will be the top of the book for the hook or string – before paper mache-ing (if that’s what you are doing).

ABUNDANCE. I like to make up a good cache of ready-to-decorate blanks in advance. A big bowl filled with potential. There will be plenty of early mistakes and lessons learned so you want them to apply that learning on effort #2 without guilt. Remember – this memory should be a fun one.

THE INVITATION. A week or so before the creation event, have a discussion with kids about what you want to do. Spend a few minutes talking about favorites this past year. You can help them remember. Start collecting them for all to see.

AMBITION MAY NOT BE YOUR FRIEND. Aim for one or two ornaments per person each year. Finish one. Then finish another. That way you’ll have the outcome you need. I once tried working with 3 or 4 at one time. The fun started to wane when I noticed that the kids were already stringing theirs up – and moving on. The party part of the afternoon was over and there I sat.

DETAILS ARE GOOD – BUT NOT THE MOST IMPORTANT. Remember, these little gems will be hanging in a sea of others. Honestly, some of my favorites are by the kids – where the broad strokes, the colors and rough design just pop – but when you look closely – well, the details aren’t there. In the photo below you might note the text on “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.” 

Details are less important than the overall color and layout – which kids can manage beautifully. In this photo you can see that it doesn’t matter at all that the title, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time‘ is little more than a squiggle.

PAPER MACHE – DONT’ BE AFRAID. Not essential but the payoff is so good. One thin layer makes them sturdy and erasable. There are lots of recipes online – but here’s the one I use. I make it quite runny. After a quick dip, ‘squeegee’ most of it off. Just want the paper to be soft and pliable for wrapping.

ART SUPPLIES. First essential is a table covering. There will be wet paintbrushes that roll away. But the stars of the show are the pencils (for the quick outline or layout), brushes (think small and stiff) and paints (acrylics). A stack of small paper plates as palettes, cups of water and a roll of paper towels within easy reach. If you are really committed, having a few small – very small – palette knives available can be a great thing. I personally hate mixing paints with a brush. Yecch.

FIRE UP THE CHRISTMAS CAROLS. No hurry. No worry. Have fun. If anyone wants help, go for it. Enjoy. The season will have begun.

Let the branches carry your family’s history.

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