Make this Yule Log use as a handcrafted herbal gift for family and friends this holiday season.
The Yule log is traditionally burned on New Year’s Eve to usher in good fortune for the coming year. It is created in the spirit of prayer or ritual for the fulfilment of dreams, hopes, and wishes for prosperity, happiness, peace, or whatever you want the New Year to bring. As you create the log, perform each action with intention for your dreams to come true.
1. Start by tying a red ribbon around the middle of a large piece of firewood. There are many items that can be used to decorate the log such as moss, rosemary sprigs, cinnamon sticks, whole nutmeg, rose hips, frankincense resin, fir branches, pinecones, or prayers written down, rolled up, and tied with pieces of string.
2. Attach all of the ornaments with drippings from a beeswax candle. As you burn the log, your mind can drift to the blessings placed with great intention on the log.
With its cold weather and long nights, the holiday season has long been a time when families spend more evenings together, gathered around the warmth of the fire, finding ways to while away the hours. Many traditional activities for this time of year also served a purpose for our forebears: Baking makes heating the home productive; warming drinks and spices help our bodies stay comfortable; and slowing down lets us rest and recharge as the year comes to an end. Although electric lights, televisions, computers, smartphones and video games make it easy today to overcome the potential hardships of this time of year, you might find it does your health some good to honor this portion of nature’s cycle. Consider these old-fashioned recipes, activities and gift ideas to make your holiday hearken to our shared human history, and to spend some quality time with your loved ones while enjoying the traditional tastes, scents and pastimes of the season.
‘Tis the season for the toasty, comforting scents and flavors of aromatic mulling spices, including cinnamon, cloves, allspice and star anise. The hot drinks served up this time of year are deeply satisfying, and folks who live in cold, northern climates have been coming up with ways to serve spiced beverages for centuries. There’s just no getting away from the comfort of sharing big bowls of spicy ales and punches.
My favorite story of spiced wassail involves the indigenous populations of southern England. In the apple-growing, cider-producing parts of Medieval Britain, the winter cider celebrations were a way to celebrate the health of the apple trees. One folktale tells of the ancient “Apple Tree Man” who resides as a spirit in the oldest tree in the orchard. By offering up the last mug of mulled cider (pouring it over the tree roots), the bounty of the next year’s harvest could be expected. I’ll raise a mug to that!
Add festive flavor to punches, wines and ciders with this blend of mulling spices.
This makes about 2-1⁄2 cups—enough for several recipes. For an individual serving, put 1⁄4 cup in a cotton drawstring bag. Toss in 1 to 2 star anise pods or cinnamon sticks per bag, if you like.
• 4 whole nutmeg
• 1⁄2 cup cardamom pods
• 1⁄2 cup sweet cinnamon chips
• 1⁄4 cup each: orange peel, lemon peel, ginger root, whole cloves, whole allspice berries
• 2 organic vanilla beans, insides scraped
• Star anise, whole pods (optional)
• Sweet cinnamon sticks (optional)
1. Put nutmeg and cardamom in a cloth bag and whack with a rolling pin to break into pieces.
2. In a bowl, combine nutmeg and cardamom pieces, cinnamon chips, orange and lemon peel, ginger root, cloves and allspice berries. Add inside of vanilla beans (save vanilla pods for homemade vanilla extract or to infuse honey).
Mistletoe appears in doorways and corners during the winter holidays as part of ancient decorations and rituals. Mistletoe is a semi-perennial parasitic evergreen with more than 900 species. Its seeds sprout from bird droppings in trees and grow into the trunk, tapping into the tree’s water and nutrient systems.
Freshly harvested evergreen boughs, sprigs, and vines were transformed into wreaths, garlands and swags, adding festive touches to doorways, windows, mantels, banisters and chandeliers. Bringing greenery such as mistletoe, holly and ivy into the home at this time of year may have been a legacy of the Druids, who used it to welcome wandering nature spirits seeking shelter from the cold and dark.
A simple sprig of decorative mistletoe is a familiar prompt for a holiday kiss, but you can make your foyer extraordinary with a traditional kissing ball.
Originally, during England’s Middle Ages, “holy boughs”—made from interlocking evergreen branches and supporting figurines of baby Jesus or the holy family—graced passages. Throughout the holiday season, the holy bough hung from entryways as an omen of goodwill for embracing visitors.
After a period of unpopularity, thanks to the Puritans, Victorians brought the holy bough back from obscurity, refurbished with a new look and a new name. It now became an elaborately decorated apple or potato replete with herbs and foliage. The herbs on each “kissing ball” were not only chosen for their beauty, but also for their symbolic value. Lavender and rosemary signified loyalty and devotion, while thyme promoted courage. Mistletoe was a popular decorative choice symbolizing good fortune and fertility.
The kissing ball began to emphasize romance, rather than mere good will. Dancers waltzed under the kissing ball laced with mistletoe for a peck, and single women stood in wait for potential suitors. Eventually, sprigs of mistletoe superseded all other greenery and became the enduring symbol of holiday affection that we know today.
– Needle nose pliers
– Craft scissors
• 6-inch floral-foam ball
• 12 inches of florists’ wire or 24-gauge wire
• 30 inches of ribbon
• Roughly 75 3-inch mistletoe stems (pine* and fir* can substitute or be added to the mistletoe)
• Roughly 50 to 60 3-inch rosemary stems (rosemary can be substituted for thyme*)
• 15 French lavender stems
• Small bell (optional)
* NOTE: If mistletoe or rosemary stems are substituted for other herbs or shrubs, take into account their size and adjust the number of clippings accordingly.
1. Soak the floral-foam ball in water.
2. Cut the herbs and shrubbery into 3-inch pieces at an angle. (Eyeball the 3-inch length.)
3. Remove the floral-foam ball from the water and place on a towel. The ball should be moist but not dripping any water.
4. Using the needle nose pliers, cut 2 inches of wire. Twist a loop at the end of the wire.
5. Thread the wire through the center of the floral-foam ball until the wire loop is touching the ball. Measuring 3 inches from the ball, string the bell onto the wire and make another wrap loop as in step four. (It is essential that the loop be made at the 3-inch mark to ensure the bell’s visibility once the ball is covered in clippings.) The floral-foam ball should be secure between the two wire loops, without any room to move.
6. String the ribbon through the first wrap loop made and tie the ends together in a small bow.
7. Stick the mistletoe, rosemary and lavender stems into the floral-foam ball. Evenly distribute the herbs. Make sure each stem is securely logged in the floral-foam ball.
8. Gently move the bow you made in step six so it sits on top of the ball.
Craft fresh holiday wreaths with family and friends to add natural elements to your seasonal decor.
These simple instructions were adapted from the blog Girl. Inspired
., which offers craft projects, sewing tutorials, recipes and party ideas.
• Garden clippers
• Evergreen branches
• Wire wreath form (ideally with clips)
1. Cut 3 evergreen twigs 6 to 9 inches long. Stack twigs, fluffiest on the bottom. Place bundle on wreath form, with the base under the clip, pointed right. (We’re working counter-clockwise.) Bend down clip, or attach bundle with wire.
2. If you’re using decorative elements (pinecones and fruit or berries), group those into sets. I made 3 clusters, each with 3 pinecones and 1 berry sprig. (My horticulturist mother taught me plants always look good in groups of 3.) If you collect pinecones from the yard, wrap wire around their centers to secure them in clusters.
3. Gather your next bundle of branches and place it into the next clip, or wire it slightly overlapping the first. Make sure the tops of your second bundle cover the base/wires of the first. If you’re adding decorative elements, wire those groupings to some of the evergreen bundles and distribute the bundles with decorations evenly around the wreath.
4. Continue adding evergreen bundles until you get to your last clip. Make sure the last bundle overlaps the wires of the first. Hold up your wreath. Check that all the branches look even, and add to any sparse spaces. Attach a ribbon to hang the wreath and put that beauty up!
Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Winter Solstice, festivities brighten even the coldest, dreariest winter. Yet wasteful holiday consumption takes a toll on our natural resources. This year, why not give a little something back to the earth? You don’t have to sacrifice beloved traditions—small changes make a big difference. Select a living tree over an artificial one, use LED lights instead of incandescents or limit the use of paper goods. These and other eco-friendly options will keep your environmental impact low and holiday spirits high.
To get you started, we’ve come up with three simple changes that will make this holiday greener and more meaningful.
1. Choose real trees to go ever-green
Artificial evergreen decorations and Christmas trees are mostly made from plastics—nonrenewable petroleum byproducts—and they can’t be recycled. Some contain PVC, a known health hazard. Most are imported from China, adding transportation and fossil fuel consumption to the already high environmental cost. A real tree, while it’s growing, provides habitat for critters and oxygen to the air we breathe. It also can be recycled back to the earth in the form of mulch. So instead of an artificial tree, try one of these options:
■ Plant a living tree. Purchase a potted tree to replant later—it doesn’t have to be an evergreen. For a fee and if you live in the area, the Original Living Christmas Tree Company in Portland, Oregon and Friends of the Urban Forest in San Francisco will deliver potted trees to your home. After the holidays, you can replant them in a park, around your neighborhood or even at a tree farm. The Original Living Christmas Tree company website includes information for franchising the business in your own city.
■ Cut your own. Some national forests or public lands sell permits that allow you to select and cut your own tree with a handsaw. The forest thinning helps prevent disease or fire. To find out if trees are available for cutting or to obtain a permit, locate the Bureau of Land Management office nearest you or check out the U.S. Forest Service’s interactive maps.
■ Buy an organically grown tree. Conventional Christmas tree growers rely on synthetic pesticides and herbicides. Organically grown trees are healthier for the soil, water, tree farm workers and critters who inhabit the trees while they grow. Organic tree farms are becoming more common, but there’s no established certification process or trade organization for them yet. To find an organic tree farm, check www.EcoBusinessLinks.com , or consult a local whole foods grocer, farmer’s market or nursery.
2. Bright lights, big energy savings
When it comes to energy use, some holiday lights shine brighter than
others. You can save electricity and still enjoy the sparkle by choosing the most eco-friendly type of bulb, by limiting the time you burn your holiday lights, or by putting them on a timer.
■ Choose LEDs. The same technology that lights the display on your watch or calculator, the light-emitting diode (LED), now provides twinkle for your tree. In the last few years, strings of decorative LED lights have become available in almost every color, shape and size—and at practically every retailer. LEDs are 90 percent more efficient than conventional incandescent bulbs and last for thousands of hours, according to Energy Star. Plus, they’re cool to the touch and pose less fire risk. They cost a bit more, but the change will save you a bundle in utilities.
■ Go off the grid. Although they’re not yet as widely available as LED holiday light strings, solar-powered sets are gaining popularity. They require no electricity but rely on a small solar grid. Solar lights have a higher price tag upfront ($40 and up for a string of 50 bulbs) but cost nothing to run—and they come in a variety of colors.
3. More creativity, less waste
Americans generate 25 percent more waste during the holidays, and much of it is paper: wrapping paper, cards, bags, packages and bows. Although you don’t have to hoard used wrapping paper like Grandma did, she had the right idea. Reusing paper is always environmentally friendly, and there’s no shortage of creative ways to do it.
■ Rewrap it. Remember when we reused the comic pages for wrapping paper? It’s not only retro, it’s earth-friendly, frugal and fun. You also could reuse old cloth scraps or rubber-stamp paper bags. Decorate with pine cones, twine or magic marker. Even purchased gift bags can be reused multiple times. The Wrapsacks company codes its reusable cloth gift bags so you can follow their journey online from recipient to recipient. You can make your own “trackable” bag by signing your name, hometown or gift on it with a glitter pen. Then pass it on!
■ Do the un-wrap. Skip the wrapping paper and bows altogether and have a treasure hunt for the gifts. Hide them in closets, under beds, in the refrigerator. The kids—both young and old—will love it! (Don’t forget to make a list of locations while you’re hiding them so none are forgotten.)
■ Care enough to send the very greenest. Two billion cards are sent each year during the holiday season, according to Hallmark. More and more folks are sending greetings via e-mail—and it doesn’t have to feel impersonal. Add family photos or a personalized letter, or link to your personal webpage. It saves time, postage and paper. Alternatively, choose cards made from recycled paper—or make your own from used greeting cards.
■ Recycle and reuse holiday cards. Keep reusable card fronts and other supplies in a box and have the kids
create placemats, new cards, gift tags and ornaments from them. You could also donate cards to a senior center, school or recreation center that can use them as craft supplies. Or, shred the cards and add them to your compost bin.
Bloomin’ Flower Cards has taken it a shovel deeper, making biodegradable cards with embedded seeds—you plant the whole thing. The company also uses soy-based inks, renewable hemp and 100 percent post-consumer waste, and it donates proceeds to worthy causes.
If you’re willing to let go of having a 7-foot-tall tree in your home, consider these alternatives that keep the holiday spirit alive:
■ Decorate with wreaths, garlands or greenery boughs thinned from living trees. You might even be able to “harvest” them from your own backyard.
■ Make a “tree” from driftwood or a large houseplant.
■ Have a tree planted in honor of someone. Most parks, national forests, cemeteries and even nursing homes have programs for tree donation.
■ Decorate a tree in a nursing home, hospital or shelter for the needy.
■ Purchase a small rosemary “tree” from a local nursery. Rosemary smells terrific and is a year-round source of fresh herbs.