Environmentally friendly holiday decorations you can DIY

A Christmas tree made from leftover wrapping paper scraps. Eli Lu for The Washington Post
A Christmas tree made from leftover wrapping paper scraps. Eli Lu for The Washington Post

Wreaths and garlands might be the most classic natural decor of the holiday season, but if you want to try something new this year, here are six fun DIY ideas that also almost entirely forgo plastic and other processed materials. They're easy to make, and when the celebrations are over, many of their components can be recycled or composted.

1. Leftover wrapping paper Christmas tree

This is a cute alternative to a store-bought decorative tree for a buffet or desk. Start with a 12-inch by 12-inch piece of green scrapbook paper. Roll the paper into a cone and secure the seam with a line of water-soluble glue. Trim the bottom so the cone stands on its own. Then, using wrapping paper scraps, cut two-inch wide by about 10-inch long strips. You'll need roughly 10 to 12 of them, depending on how wide your scraps are. If you have narrower scraps, you'll make narrower strips, and thus need more.

With scissors, snip the strips at the bottom repeatedly, making what resembles a paper grass skirt. Roll each strip over a pencil or use a scissors blade to carefully curve the cut strips upward. Starting at the bottom, glue each strip around the cone, layering upward so each row overlaps the last by about a half-inch. Continue attaching the strips, trimming each one's length as needed, until you've reached the top of the tree. When finished, you should have a colorful tree with curly "branches."

2. Outdoor winter seasonal arrangement

While it's difficult to keep conifer boughs from drying out indoors, it's easy to create a long-lasting arrangement outside. The trick is to combine varying types of material. Begin with a pot or urn of wet sand. Insert a few tall bare branches in a circle. Surround those with 12-inch flat cedar boughs or fir branches so they drape over the container. Above those, tuck in short branches of holly around the entire edge. Next, fill in gaps with snips of blue spruce or juniper branches for color. To add architectural contrast, nestle in large pine cones or unusual rocks. A burlap bow tied on a wood skewer adds a central feature.

3. Holiday centerpiece

To illuminate your dinner guests and create a cozy mood, try this elegant centerpiece. Start with two low, wide circular glass bowls or vases. I use nine-inch and six-inch glass food-storage containers. Lay tufts of moss on the bottom of the larger container before inserting the smaller container. Between the gap of the two vessels, slide in moss, conifer branches, pine cones, cranberries and nuts. This creates a mini vertical display of found seasonal objects. Fill the interior bowl with about three inches of water and add one to three floating soy wax candles.

4. Modern menorah tray

First off, this isn't a true menorah and is not meant to stand in for one. But if you'd like to celebrate the festival of lights with a homemade project, this is an easy DIY that can be done with kids.

Start with a white rectangular platter or wooden frame bought from a home or craft store. Lay out nine votive candle holders or dessert glasses and add crushed craft glass inside. Insert a taper into each holder so the candle is securely upright. For the Shamash, or helper candle, add extra crushed glass and set it higher than the others. Put the holders in a row on the tray with the Shamash candle at the center. Fill the tray with light blue jelly beans or pumpkin seeds. Sprinkle in dried blueberries for contrast. Finish by cutting off the stems from baby's breath flowers and randomly nestling them around the tray.

5. Sheet music snowflakes

The mood always gets merrier with music around the holidays, even if it's only on paper. Begin with a few sheets of green, red and white card stock or construction paper. Search public domain sites such as IMSLP for your favorite holiday sheet music. When you've located your favorite tune, put the sheet of card stock in your printer and print the song. Flip over the sheet and print either the same song or another on the back. (A two-sided effect adds more interest but isn't completely necessary.)

Find your favorite snowflake template and print that out, too. Snowflakes with a solid center work best. Cut out the template before tracing or using it as a cutting guide on the printed, sheet-music card stock. Afterward, punch holes in each snowflake and thread through hemp, jute or cotton twine. You can hang the final product from a chandelier, fireplace mantle or Christmas tree.

6. Holiday card curtain

As holiday cards come in the mail, it's always fun to show them off. For a new approach, try making a card curtain. First, arrange your cards on a flat surface however you'd like to display them. Then, with a hole puncher, create holes at the top and bottom centers of each one. For a two-sided effect, take a pair of similar-sized cards and hang them back-to-back, aligning them at the upper and lower holes. Thread through five-inch strings of wool yarn or hemp ribbon and tie knots so one card's bottom is attached to the top of the next. Thicker yarn works best.

Once you've tied together chains of six or seven cards, secure the top of each strand to a sturdy branch that will function as the curtain rod. It can be anywhere from a foot-and-a-half to two feet long, depending on how many strands of cards you want to hang from it. After all the card-chains are attached, hook the branch horizontally onto sticky hooks over an archway or wide doorway, or just onto a blank wall. As more cards arrive, you can add them to the curtain strands. To keep the cards from jostling around too much, tie a heavy bead or hex nut at the bottom of each strand. Enjoy the reminders of friends and family.

Karen Hugg is the author of "Leaf Your Troubles Behind: How to Destress and Grow Happiness Through Plants." Connect with her on Threads karenhugg.

photo A festive centerpiece made with found items from nature, such as moss and branches. Eli Lu for The Washington Post
photo A kid-friendly menorah project that includes jelly beans as a base for the candles. Eli Lu for The Washington Post
photo Make paper snowflakes out of your favorite holiday music. Eli Lu for The Washington Post
photo A creative way to display holiday cards. Eli Lu for The Washington Post

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