Old-fashioned can be fun at Christmas time

Jim CasadaDecember 2, 2007 

Sometimes being old-fashioned can be a great deal of fun, and that's especially true at this season as my thoughts go wandering back to the marvelously misspent days of my boyhood. Much of the decorating and other preparations connected with Christmas had a distinct outdoors connection in my family.

There were no Christmas tree farms, much less artificial trees--everyone cut their own. We also gathered material for wreathes and tree decorations and had a great deal of fun in the process. Also, and this was a factor of considerable importance, such things cost little or no money.

As we moved into December, it was standard practice to combine the pleasures of a hunting trip or a long walk in the woods with gathering greenery and other material for the festive season. Here are some ways you can celebrate a natural Christmas the way it once was done, and my guess is that once you've done it this might well become a family tradition. Alternatively, thinking about such activities might take you on a welcome jaunt down the darkening avenue into the past we call memory lane.

Of all the items we think of at Christmas, the tree is probably the most important. Cedars are plentiful hereabouts, and when they grow in old fields they provide a wonderful smell. Pines are another good choice for a tree. They don't have nice shapes as often as cedars, but they enjoy the advantage of not being sticky. So if you own some land or have friends who do, give some thought to cutting your own. The simple process of looking for an ideal tree, something we did in my family from the opening of rabbit season until about 10 days before Christmas, is a pure joy.

While afield, you might want to think about wreathes. All sorts of materials can be used to make them. Among the most common ones are cedar and pine limbs, along with holly twigs sporting their bright red berries. Yet that's just a start on the possibilities. Bittersweet, a rapidly growing vine which has loads of red berries, grows wild hereabouts. Where it is found you can't miss it once leaves have fallen, and when worked into wreathes with greenery, it is beautiful. Another plant which can be used for wreathes is ground cedar.

Another way of making wreathes, and they are nice at Christmas but can be used any time of the year, is to utilize materials you regularly encounter when out hunting or just walking around. These include old bird nests, the cones of pine trees and other evergreens, abandoned wasp nests, small sheds from deer, and indeed about anything that catches your eye. Combine these with some primary or secondary feathers from a turkey's fan, maybe a tail or two from a whitetail, add some shotgun hulls for color, and you have something sure to catch any outdoorsman's eye.

Yet another possibility for wreathes is to use cuttings from wild grape vines. They are quite flexible, wild grapes of one kind or another grow most everywhere, and they are attractive by themselves or as a working frame into which you can insert other decorative materials.

The rich offerings of nature provide a whole bunch of other possibilities for Christmas decorations. A turkey fan, topped with greenery and some berries, can offer a warm welcome atop a table at an entrance to a house. Or use two fans to make a full circle in the center of the dining table; put a candle, small pumpkin, two candles or something similar in the middle where the two fans meet; then add a bit of decoration in the form of greenery or berries. It makes a lovely centerpiece.

Of course no house decorated for Christmas is complete without a sprig or two of mistletoe. Gathering this traditional decorative item can be challenging, since it almost always grows high up on tree limbs. As a boy though, I found the perfect way to get mistletoe, have fun doing it, and sharpen up my shooting skills in the process. Just take a .22 rifle and try to shoot clusters of mistletoe right where they join a limb. A spot-on shot will cut the mistletoe away clean and let it drop to the ground.

Another nice possibility for decoration is to cut a few limbs from a particularly thorny honey locust. You can then stick a gum drop at the tip of each thorn to make a sort of miniature thorn tree (and it's available for nibbling if your sweet tooth needs a treat). A different food item which is useful for decoration is popcorn. Pop some and by all means eat your fill; maybe use some molasses to make popcorn balls as well. But save some to use as decoration for the Christmas tree. Just take some strong sewing thread and a sharp needle, and then run the needle through each kernel of popcorn. Before long you will have a popcorn "chain" which can be placed on the tree.

These and other steps towards a "natural" Christmas seem today to belong to a world we have lost, but they also offer a fine way to call be yesterday while giving the season a bit of extra meaning.

being old-fashioned can be a great deal of fun, and that's especially true at this season as my thoughts go wandering back to the marvelously misspent days of my boyhood. Much of the decorating and other preparations connected with Christmas had a distinct outdoors connection in my family.

There were no Christmas tree farms, much less artificial trees--everyone cut their own. We also gathered material for wreathes and tree decorations and had a great deal of fun in the process. Also, and this was a factor of considerable importance, such things cost little or no money.

As we moved into December, it was standard practice to combine the pleasures of a hunting trip or a long walk in the woods with gathering greenery and other material for the festive season. Here are some ways you can celebrate a natural Christmas the way it once was done, and my guess is that once you've done it this might well become a family tradition. Alternatively, thinking about such activities might take you on a welcome jaunt down the darkening avenue into the past we call memory lane.

Of all the items we think of at Christmas, the tree is probably the most important. Cedars are plentiful hereabouts, and when they grow in old fields they provide a wonderful smell. Pines are another good choice for a tree. They don't have nice shapes as often as cedars, but they enjoy the advantage of not being sticky. So if you own some land or have friends who do, give some thought to cutting your own. The simple process of looking for an ideal tree, something we did in my family from the opening of rabbit season until about 10 days before Christmas, is a pure joy.

While afield, you might want to think about wreathes. All sorts of materials can be used to make them. Among the most common ones are cedar and pine limbs, along with holly twigs sporting their bright red berries. Yet that's just a start on the possibilities. Bittersweet, a rapidly growing vine which has loads of red berries, grows wild hereabouts. Where it is found you can't miss it once leaves have fallen, and when worked into wreathes with greenery, it is beautiful. Another plant which can be used for wreathes is ground cedar.

Another way of making wreathes, and they are nice at Christmas but can be used any time of the year, is to utilize materials you regularly encounter when out hunting or just walking around. These include old bird nests, the cones of pine trees and other evergreens, abandoned wasp nests, small sheds from deer, and indeed about anything that catches your eye. Combine these with some primary or secondary feathers from a turkey's fan, maybe a tail or two from a whitetail, add some shotgun hulls for color, and you have something sure to catch any outdoorsman's eye.

Yet another possibility for wreathes is to use cuttings from wild grape vines. They are quite flexible, wild grapes of one kind or another grow most everywhere, and they are attractive by themselves or as a working frame into which you can insert other decorative materials.

The rich offerings of nature provide a whole bunch of other possibilities for Christmas decorations. A turkey fan, topped with greenery and some berries, can offer a warm welcome atop a table at an entrance to a house. Or use two fans to make a full circle in the center of the dining table; put a candle, small pumpkin, two candles or something similar in the middle where the two fans meet; then add a bit of decoration in the form of greenery or berries. It makes a lovely centerpiece.

Of course no house decorated for Christmas is complete without a sprig or two of mistletoe. Gathering this traditional decorative item can be challenging, since it almost always grows high up on tree limbs. As a boy though, I found the perfect way to get mistletoe, have fun doing it, and sharpen up my shooting skills in the process. Just take a .22 rifle and try to shoot clusters of mistletoe right where they join a limb. A spot-on shot will cut the mistletoe away clean and let it drop to the ground.

Another nice possibility for decoration is to cut a few limbs from a particularly thorny honey locust. You can then stick a gum drop at the tip of each thorn to make a sort of miniature thorn tree (and it's available for nibbling if your sweet tooth needs a treat). A different food item which is useful for decoration is popcorn. Pop some and by all means eat your fill; maybe use some molasses to make popcorn balls as well. But save some to use as decoration for the Christmas tree. Just take some strong sewing thread and a sharp needle, and then run the needle through each kernel of popcorn. Before long you will have a popcorn "chain" which can be placed on the tree.

These and other steps towards a "natural" Christmas seem today to belong to a world we have lost, but they also offer a fine way to call be yesterday while giving the season a bit of extra meaning.

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