Coloured lights twinkling between the branches of a lush evergreentree ... that's one part of the picture of Christmas morning that few of us are willing to part with. While it does make the best energy sense to use as few lights as possible, switching to the low-wattage 'fairy lights' is a good compromise.
Put a timer on the lights to make sure they aren't left on when you leave the house. For safety's sake, be sure to keep paper and all other flammable ornaments well away from light bulbs.
Save some of the packaging that comes into your house or your office in the months before the holidays, and decorate a truly 'green' tree. Recycling throw-aways into seasonal decorations is a fine craft project for youngsters on those stormy days when 'there's nothing to do.'
- Cut paper chains or paper-doll chains from discarded accordion-folded computer paper.
- Cover the cardboard tubes from bathroom tissue with three or four layers of newspaper strips soaked in flour-and-water paste. When the pieces are completely dry, no longer cool to the touch, paint them to look like old-fashioned toy soldiers or turn them into decorative candles by attaching a paper “flame” to the top of one side of the cylinder.
- Cut stars, snowflakes and spirals from the foil tops of yogurt or juice containers, or roll old tinfoil into small balls to thread together for a tinsel chain.
- Make miniature gifts to decorate the tree: punch holes through the lids of empty film canisters and loop ribbon or yarn through the hole. Wrap the canister in scraps of gift paper or foil, and replace the lid. Each ornament could hold a note (like a 'fortune cookie') to be opened and read on Christmas Eve.
- Collect the green plastic holders when you or your friends receive cut flowers from a florist, slip an ornament hook through the loop on the rubber end, and hang them on the tree as 'icicles'.
- Small toys, from 'Hot Wheels' cars to tiny stuffed creatures, can be hung on the tree with string.
- Cut cereal-box cardboard into hearts or wreath shapes, spread them with glue and dip them in potpourri, then hang with a loop of ribbon. These 'Victorian' ornaments are a good use for potpourri even when its scent has faded.
- Glue or tape a piece of ribbon on the back of a wallet-size photo of your child, family, pet or other personal scene, or use pictures cut from old greeting cards.
- Check your local library for a book on origami, to make simple folded-paper figures from used gift wrap or brightly coloured magazine and catalogue pages.
- String or paste together feathers, beads, and imitation or dried flowers, from old hats, costume jewellery, or clothing , into original decorations for the tree.
- Make a garland by stringing old buttons on twine or embroidery thread, making knots between each button to give the garland length.
The possibilities for natural ornaments are unlimited: pine cones, feathers, berries, dried seed pods and flowers, and corn husks shaped into wreaths or dolls, for example. And any of these decorations can go into the compost pile when you're finished with them.
How about edible tree trimmings? Popcorn chains and popcorn balls, cranberry wreaths, candy canes, nuts in the shell, apple rings, cinnamon sticks, and gingerbread cookies are among the traditional Christmas tree decorations that are back in fashion again. What your family doesn’t nibble away, the birds or the compost can use.
If you choose to buy ornaments instead of making your own, look for durable products that will last for many years before they need to be replaced. With care, for example, glass 'icicles' can be used again and again. (The tinsel strands made of foil or plastic are reusable too, but are not as practical and don't last as long.) Pack all decorations away carefully after each use, and they may become the treasured heirlooms of another generation.