The holiday season is a favorite time of year for me, and I always fondly remember Christmas at my Grandmother's farm as a child. I don't remember the toys or the food, but can still picture the yearly tradition of putting all of her Christmas cards up on the big center beam that was in the living room of that early-1800s home. She always modestly decorated, which helped to teach me that you don't need fancy lights or expensive wreaths to make the season joyful. The holidays are a time for family, friends, love, giving, and happy memories to be made.
The question I asked myself this year was, "How can I incorporate the land and surroundings into modest decorations?" In what way could I take material from the outdoors that is normally overlooked, and give it beauty by making it a part of the indoor festivity? Homesteading is very much about creativity for us, and so the possibilities would start to add up quickly. I then selected five different ways to keep home decor simple, and went to work.
As the Fall winds arrived and began to make the trees dance and lose their leaves, we would often find clusters of green Loblolly Pine needles on the ground that weren't strong enough to withstand the wind. Stripping the needles from the branch, I tried my hand at making a hand broom and a miniature broom. I clustered a bunch of needles together and wrapped the area to be held in the hand tightly with twine. Then, I trimmed the edges evenly to make a functional and wonderful smelling hand broom. I also made a miniature broom with a small stick and a cluster of needles in much the same way. It had been some time since I'd last made an actual Sorghum broom, but nonetheless it turned out wonderful. A hole was drilled in the top of the stick and string ran through it, so that the miniature broom could be hung up for display.
A Pine needle hand broom and miniature broom.
Often times, wild Muscadine vines have made their way up trees that we have selected to cut for firewood. Once the tree is down, I pull the vines away and work them into hoops and wreaths later in the day. These wreaths can be decorated with a variety of material, and it is up to you what features you'd like to add. In the past, we made one for our cabin that featured corn husks from the year's crop. Pruning the Holly bushes at this time and saving their leaves to add to the wreath is wonderful. This year, we added a few Holly leaves, a burlap bow, and a few wild turkey feathers. Adding feathers from the backyard flock, spent shotshells, or deer hooves are other interesting options.
A wreath made from Muscadine vines, decorated with Holly, burlap, and turkey feathers.
When clearing land, I always keep my eyes open for Yellow "Tulip" Poplar, as I love to craft with the saplings and branches from this tree. We've given Poplar walking sticks as gifts in the past, but during the holidays I enjoy cutting slices from small saplings or branches to create coasters and ornaments. I don't deny the beauty of ornaments adorning trees each year that have been passed down through the family, but why not add a new memory by decorating wood slice ornaments with your children? Try painting your favorite pet's likeness onto one, or paste an initial onto the slice.
A variety of Christmas ornaments made from slices of wood, including different animal breeds.
Fall in this region often finds the squirrels gathering pinecones to feast on, seen high in the trees chewing away on the cone. It is common to see the pinecones littering the ground at this time too, in many different shapes and sizes. We've used tiny Virginia Pine cones to hold name cards at the Thanksgiving table, or to decorate a wreath at other times. A basket of massive Longleaf cones makes for an impressive sight, and some people may choose to spray-paint these in red, white, gold, orange, or green to further add to their subtle beauty.
Longleaf Pine cones painted for holiday display.
After watching a holiday special last year that gave a tour of the state Governor's Mansion, I remembered seeing beautiful garland draped over the staircase made from Magnolia leaves. We have quite a bit of Sweetbay Magnolia growing here, and so I tried a few different methods of using the leaves to make garland. My favorite way to use it required few leaves, and easy enough to make by only requiring a sewing needle and fishing line. This particular garland was also great to wrap around the tree.
Simple Bay leaf garland wrapped around a "living" outdoor Christmas tree (Eastern Red Cedar).
From using Longleaf pine needles to create a basket centerpiece, or making corn husk dolls for the Thanksgiving table, it's easy to make modest crafts that pay tribute to the great land around us. No matter how you choose to decorate this holiday season, just remember that a beautiful house becomes a beautiful HOME when loved ones gather and celebrate together. Have a joyous holiday season, and an even brighter New Year!
Fala Burnette is a homesteader with her husband at Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. They are currently building their own log cabin and milling their own lumber, along with raising heirloom crops in the Spring and tanning furs during the Winter. Read all of Fala's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.