Homemade Gift Series #9: Handmade Ornaments

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This year, we decided to make a big batch of handmade Christmas tree ornaments for our home, just to make some “homey” Christmas items to decorate with. We decided to make them in the style of Christmas sugar cookies, with dough that would harden and look roughly like such cookies.

As we were making them, though, Sarah had the brilliant idea of making extras and giving them away as “add-ons” on some of the gifts we’d already made. “We could just put a ribbon through them and tie that ribbon around a jelly jar,” she suggested, referring to the jellies and jams we had already made for gifts.

Sounds like a good idea to me!

Dough ingredients

The ingredients for the dough are simple enough. One cup salt, two cups flour, five teaspoons of cinnamon, and 3/4 cup water (with maybe a bit more).

Mix the dry ingredients together, then add the water slowly. Mix it together until it forms a ball, like so.

Dough ball

If you find the ball to be crumbly, add a bit more water, a teaspoon at a time, and knead it between teaspoons. If you find it to be sticky, add a bit more flour, a teaspoon at a time, and knead it between teaspoons. Eventually, you’ll find a happy medium – not too sticky, not too crumbly. That’s just what you want.

A note on the cinnamon: it’s added mostly to give the “cookie” ornaments a cinnamon smell. I felt that the five teaspoons didn’t give a very strong smell and if we were to make another batch of cookies, I would use at least ten teaspoons of cinnamon.

Baked ornaments

Once the dough is ready, wrap it up and put it in the refrigerator for thirty minutes to stiffen the dough. Then, roll the dough out to roughly 1/2″ thick (about 1.25 cm) – you can be approximate on this – on a lightly floured surface.

Use cookie cutters to cut the dough into shapes, then use a straw (or another device) to make a small hole on the top of the ornament shape. Then, bake until dry at 325 F – this usually takes about an hour. I recommend using parchment paper on top of a baking sheet to bake the ornaments.

Baked ornaments

We turned the leftover dough – the pieces between shapes that didn’t quite amount to enough to roll out again – into candy cane shapes for our own use.

Most of our ornaments were snowflakes, which we chose (for the time being) not to paint. We could have painted them white, of course.

Child painting an ornament

The kids painted several of the ornaments, which turned this into a bit of a family art project. They went pretty over the top with the colors, though, which means these will make good additions to our tree and perhaps the trees of their grandparents, but maybe not the trees of others…

Child-painted ornaments

After the ornaments were painted, we sprayed them with a matte finish sprayable varnish so they would keep for a long time. We then slipped ribbons through some of the holes to look at our finished ornaments.

Finished snowflake with ribbon

One important thing to note – these ornaments are actually surprisingly sturdy. One was dropped from a height of six feet onto a hardwood floor and as it fell, we fully expected it to break into bits. It seemed almost completely unharmed by the drop, perhaps losing a tiny crumb.

We look forward to tying these onto some of the handmade gifts we give out this year – and we also look forward to putting some of the ornaments on our own Christmas tree.

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32 thoughts on “Homemade Gift Series #9: Handmade Ornaments

  1. Very cute idea.

    I would think the cinnamon would be more about the color than the smell – it makes them look more like gingerbread and less like a straight sugar cookie.

  2. When me and my siblings were younger we made cinnamon ornaments every year. I believe we used about 10ish teaspoons like you said. We didn’t try and save them and it was understood that they would only be used for one year, but making them are some of my most vivid memories of Christmas as a kid. One change that we made to make them a bit harder was the add a bit of Elmer’s white glue into the dough. While they are sturdy without it when you add some of it in they are almost impossible to break short of hitting them with a hammer.

    Also, you would be surprised how potent the smell is, quite awesome really. When combined with a real tree the smell in the house was awesome.

  3. I make these with the kids every year, we use 1 cup of cinnamon plus flour, which is cheap in warehouse stores. adding cloves is a nice touch too. We also add about 1/2 c of glue for strength. Its important not to roll them too thin.

  4. For years I made bear ornaments out of salt dough(a garlic press makes great hair-and spaghetti!) They will last forever if you varnish them. I made bride and groom bears with real netting veils, soccer bears, families holding babies, etc. As my kids got older we made Darth Vadar bears, Bobo Fett, Dragon Ball Z, etc. I used i cup flour to 1/3 cup salt and about 2/3 c. water. I put cut off paper clips or curved wire for hooks inserted before baking, then baked at 300 for several hours. When they were cool I painted them with acrylic paint and then varnished them. Some I’ve had for 35 years!

  5. @ Courtney20, you probably could. For me, cinnamon is just way cheaper, about 4 cups for $1.50, so I don’t use the oil. Its not high grade cinnamon, but I use it only for ornaments and use oil and the good cinn. for baking.

  6. I did something similar to this back in elementary school. The recipe we used included apple sauce in addition to cinnamon though.

  7. Love these ornaments…I will try this since it will be a lot less expensive than having to purchase a bunch of factory-made ornaments and my kids live for this kind of stuff!

  8. I vote for continuing to let the kids decorate these – I find the crazy colors a lot of fun, & what a great way for them to feel a part of the gift giving process. Anyone you know well enough to be making gifts for will, I’m sure, get a kick out of their artwork.

  9. I really like the idea of the kids handprint, you could do them every year as a keepsake. Or as baby’s first christmas hands and feet. Too cute!

  10. Well, with this one you wouldn’t be friends with me for much longer I guess… I mean, let’s look at this from my perspective:

    It looks like a cookie, it smells like a cookie… and I can’t EAT them?

    That’s not Christmas decoration, that’s Christmas disappointment. Especially when I can’t bake anything myself… :-(

  11. I still have an ornament made just like these that my oldest son made in kindergarten…he’s 28 now. It still graces our tree every year, and still has a very faint cinnamon scent :) What a lovely reminder for your children!

  12. One of my aunts always made handmade ornaments for everyone. They weren’t like these, obviously, but everyone got a handmade ornament from her every Christmas. One year, it could be ornaments made of plastic canvas, another year they could be knitted, or another year they could be needlepoint. Whatever they were, they were always very special. After we grew up and had kids of our own, our kids get handmade ornaments from her now, too. It’s now a tradition.

  13. Very cute. I used to work at a preschool and the teacher in the classroom next to mine made these with her students one year. The whole place smelled like cinnamon. Do you have to use canning and pickling salt or will any salt work?

  14. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can add some glitter to the mix, too. It all depends on how you feel about glitter…it’s pretty, but it’s also a mess!
    I made a set of teeny Nativity figures out of this dough when I was 21 and in my first apartment with no decorations of my own and no money to buy them. 20 years later, they are cute as ever.

  15. April, any salt will work, I actually use the regular cheap table salt because I think the little crystals dissolve best.

  16. omg… I remember these… we made them once when I was like 4 years old with my mom…. we loved them so much!!! My mom did all the hard work and then let us kids paint them… my favorite was the pink rockinghorse I made… my mom still has it! she painted my name on it and the year (1989). It’s one of the best memories I’ve ever had! I think this year I’ll make them with my little girl… even though she’s only 1 year old she’ll love it (and I’d love to do handprints for all the grandparents…. i think i’ll just do a round cut out (maybe a small bowl sized) and have her do her hand!!!…. just don’t let any kids eat the dough or they’ll get an upset tummy from all the salt lol!!

  17. #16 Availle – C’mon! don’t be a Grinch! These are adorable, and most of us shouldn’t be munching on sweets and cookies, anyway … think: temptation removed.

    Wonderful post!

  18. You can paint the snowflakes a gorgeous copenhagen blue, then use a silver sharpie to draw snowflake lines. If done by an adult who can draw straight lines, they are suitable for any tree. We made these but using sculpy that was destined for the trash bin. Your recipe is very low-cost.

  19. Make a new tradition by letting each child pick u unique, unbreakable ornament when you take down your tree. 5hey each have a box for their ornaments. 2hen they grow up and move out they have ornaments for their first home ytree. make a list so they can take their ornaments off each year.

  20. My long standing tradition for homemade Christmas ornaments is to give one to EVERY person who comes to my door in December. Friend, foe, salesman, repairman, EVERY one.

  21. They look fun, however I’m scared since my cat looooooves to scale the Christmas tree from the moment I put it up to the moment I put it away (I have NO Xmas ornaments, she broke them all last year – granted they were just bulbs), she’d try to eat the ornaments as well. Or, since I have a dog, they’d use a tag-team plan where the cat would knock down the ornaments, then the dog would eat them.

    I could give the ingredients in a jar to my boyfriend’s sister for Xmas – for her 2nd child’s first Christmas. Brilliant.

  22. These are very durable… and they will last a LONG TIME if kept properly (not in intense heat or cold or in direct sunlight). We still have one that my father made when he was young that is now at least 55 years old. Pretty cool!

  23. @Trent – are you sure you didn’t use 1 3/4 cup of water? I tried 3/4 cup and it was mostly still dry. I didn’t measure how much more I added but it was a LOT, before it started to get anything like dough.

    Thanks for the idea, I am using a few of these. I appreciate it!

  24. Thanks Trent, this is just what i have been waiting for. We have been on an adventure with our finances and Presents this year were a no. We usually try and find an ornament that represents our year. Well thank you for the idea. I am truely blessed for your website and this idea. I just about have everything. God bless youa nd your family this Chirstmas, you guys have definately touched our family.

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