Gearing up for Christmas, in a pandemic, in a year that has been one fiasco after another, is no joke, y’all.
Add to that it’s our first holidays at home. No travel, no family gatherings, just a Quarantine Christmas. I’ve managed to rustle up some Christmas spirit. (Pop over to Insta to see the 18 dozen Christmas cookies I accidentally made😳.)
But that’s only been half the issue. Christmas is expensive. Not just on the gift-giving front. The price of fresh trees went up this year, as more people have been in need of some holiday cheer. And I have plans for this tree post-holidays…stay tuned for my 2021 garden plans.
Between the tree and lights, which were non-negotiables for us, I wanted to find a way to decorate without breaking the bank on mass-produced petroleum-based crap I’d decide I didn’t like in a few years when the trends changed. (Sidebar: I’m still thinking about this column by Anne Helen Petersen on America’s hollow middle class and the performance of middle-class-ness.)
If you’re still rustling up your own holiday cheer and looking for a last-minute, easy, inexpensive project to get the tree trimmed,
Enter: Scented Salt Dough Ornaments. Or, how my grandmother entertained my sister and I as children.
She described salt dough to me once as the Great Depression version of play dough – except you can bake and it will harden like clay! My sister and I spent many afternoons as children, me with my pink hunk of dough and her with her purple, molding and rolling and molding again. Only to then sit side-by-side in front of the oven door waiting for our creations to be done firing.
What I love about this tutorial is it’s totally customizable. I went for warming spices and essential oils to help with the Christmas ~vibes~, but you could easily dye the dough with food coloring, paint the finished ornaments, make impressions with little conifer twigs or herbs like rosemary, etc. etc.
All it takes is basic pantry ingredients and some patience! The important thing here is the ratio of flour to salt – 2:1, then you basically just add enough water to bind, knead it into a smooth dough, roll, and cut! I made a pretty big batch as these salt dough ornaments and dried oranges are the main decorations on our tree this year, but feel free to scale. A smaller batch would be great for a garland!
How to Make Scented Salt Dough Ornaments:
- 2 cups flour (use the cheap stuff here)
- 1 cup salt (again, table salt or kosher salt are totally fine – save the sea salt!)
- approx. 1 cup water
- Optional: spices, essential oils, food dye (for the above, I used ~1 tbsp. each of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves plus about 10 drops of frankincense and 10 drops of sweet orange essential oil).
- Preheat oven to 170°, or as low as your oven will go.
- In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, and, if using, spices and essential oils.
- Slowly stream in water while stirring with a spoon – moving to using your hand as the dough begins to come together.
- Knead until dough has the consistency of play dough.
- If adding food dye, knead it in during the previous step.
- Using a rolling pin, roll out on a clean countertop – you can flour the countertop if your dough seems sticky, but it shouldn’t necessary. Cut desired shapes using cookie cutters (or your own stencil or freehand if that’s how you roll). Be sure to use a chopstick or straw to add a hole wide enough to string ribbon or twine through for hanging.
- Place on cookie sheet lined with foil or parchment (but not greased) and bake for two hours, flipping ornaments over halfway through.
- Allow to cool. At this point, you can further personalize your ornaments with paint, or string them for use as ornaments, garland, or even gift wrap decoration!
- Please don’t eat! This is not food. Likewise make sure the ornaments are hung high enough no hungry pets come sniffing around.
- Feel free to increase the spice amount for darker ornaments or decrease it for lighter ones. I’m not sure how the spice may affect achieving desired color with food dye as I opted to go natural this year.
- Ornaments packed well and stored in a cool, humidity environment like a basement should last for years!
- If you want help make sure they’ll last, though, or if you’d like to hang them outside, feel free add a coat of clear varnish.
- Ornaments can also be air-dried rather than baked. It just requires more patience than I have.
Other homemade, low-waste holiday decoration ideas include-
- Dried citrus
- Popcorn and/or cranberry garlands
- Foraged pinecones
- (actually edible) Cookies like gingerbread
- Paper snowflakes or other origami
You can see I, and everyone else on Instagram this year, went the dried citrus route. FYI: If you have the option, the dehydrator definitely worked better than the oven at drying without discoloring. I’m hoping these will keep in the dark, cool basement for next year!