’Tis the season of folly: strapping 9-foot evergreens to the top of the Zipcar, decking the halls with LED lights that blink to “Feliz Navidad.” Too bad your apartment has only 8-foot ceilings and, whoops, that inflated electricity bill decimated your gift budget.
But yuletide cheer doesn’t have to mean buying out the pop-up garland emporium. Merrymakers might turn instead to the craft aisle — or, better yet, the recycling bin. “It’s a good feeling when people ask you where you got your holiday decorations and you say you made them yourself,” says Paul Lowe, the Brooklyn creator of the Sweet Paul blog and magazine.
This time of year, DIY inspiration is everywhere — whimsical store displays lining 14th Street, design blogs, websites such as Pinterest. “You can’t overdo holiday decorations. It’s only up for a couple of weeks, so more is better,” says Pixie Windsor, owner of Miss Pixie’s Furnishings & Whatnot (1626 14th St. NW; 202-232-8171), which drips with shiny vintage ornaments and glass baubles for the holidays. “Load the chandelier with ornaments to add sparkle, drape garland over doorways — schlock up the place.”
And there’s no need to stick to the tried-and-trad color combo of red and green, either. Go glam with metallics, cozy with rich plaids or mod with jewel tones. Says Lowe: “When it comes to the holidays, make your own traditions.”
Pingpong Ball Garland
Deck your walls (or mantels or railings) with transformed table-tennis leftovers. (See photo above.)
How To: Take plain white pingpong balls (we used about five dozen) and spray-paint two-thirds of them in two colors of your choice. (Metallic hues are nice in a holiday-at-the-disco way.) You’ll need to coat them twice and let them dry in between. To keep the orbs from rolling around and spreading paint everywhere, lay them in shallow boxes. After the balls are dry (overnight or a bit longer), assemble your supplies: a few yards of yarn or similarly thin string, thread or ribbon (we used elastic, metallic trim); a doll maker’s needle (sold at Michaels or fabric stores). Stick the needle through the balls, one at a time, and start stringing them. You can tie knots in between the balls, or, if your stringing material is thick enough, simply pull the balls along the line and arrange them in random patterns.
Think of this project from Fresh Home Ideas like a clever metaphor: An emptied wine bottle lights up the room when filled with twinkle lights; emptying the bottle is likely to get you lit, too.
How To: Remove the label and scrub off any residue. Using a half-inch drill bit for glass, carefully drill a hole in the glass an inch or two from the bottom of the bottle. Make sure the hole is large enough for light bulbs plus string to fit through. Carefully feed a small string of lights into the hole, leaving enough of a tail to plug it in.
Savvy hosts know the best way to make a houseguest feel welcome is by minimizing the amount of time spent sans drink in hand. The solution sent down from the domestic gods: a bowl or pitcher of punch planted near the door.
How To: Following a recipe on Food & Wine, we chose a citrus-heavy punch laced with a festive kick of cinnamon (and booze). Boil 2 ¼ cups orange juice (fresh or from the bottle), strips of zest from two oranges and three broken-up cinnamon sticks until the juice has reduced to one cup (roughly 10 minutes). Strain and let cool. In a large pitcher, combine the chilled orange reduction with 3 cups orange juice, 2 cups red grapefruit juice and one tablespoon grenadine syrup (to make your own, boil pure pomegranate juice with sugar, 2-to-1, until reduced by half and syrupy). Stir well and chill. Just before serving, add 20 ounces grapefruit soda and orange slices dusted with ground cinnamon. Spike with Grand Marnier, cognac or the spirit of your choice.
“A wreath makes anything festive, whether you hang it on your front door or window, place it on the dining table, or hang it from a mirror,” Lowe says.
How To: Personalize yours by carefully wrapping a favorite letter (try Hobby Lobby) — a monogram or otherwise — with jute twine or yarn, then bedazzling it with felt holly or flowers (search “felt flower tutorial” online).
Turn the page on deforestation by making festive trees from discarded magazines.
How To: Starting with the first page of a magazine, fold the upper right corner into the spine and crease well; then fold the diagonal line into the spine and crease well. You should now have an acute triangle. Tuck the tip that points downward up so the fold is flush with the bottom of the magazine. Repeat with every page; then carefully remove the cover and back cover. You may want to glue two magazines together at the spine for a fuller tree (now’s a good time to lament the fate of print journalism). For a snow-frosted look, spray with adhesive and sprinkle with glitter.
Remember those state fairs or childhood summers? Well, everything is still better on a stick — gingerbread cookies included. “Especially at the holidays, everyone likes nostalgia and stuff they had as kids,” Windsor says.
How to: Whip up a batch of your favorite gingerbread cookies (we found our recipe at 101cookbooks.com), then gently press the doughy men onto Popsicle sticks or wooden chopsticks. The cookies will bake onto the sticks, and, voila! Eating — and displaying — the cookies becomes infinitely more fun.