Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Family Snowmen and Other Ornaments

It's been a pretty busy January so I'm only now belatedly posting about a fun tradition Kate invented for our Christmas celebrations with extended family. For the past four years (if I count right), she's been making ornaments for each of its 17 member. It started when she was in middle school and in a fimo clay phase. That first year, she made miniature clay sculptures representing each of our interests - cameras for the photographers, tea and coffee mugs for the caffeine addicts, books for the avid readers, and suchlike - adding even finer details with acrylic paint using toothpicks and paintbrush. The next year, she discovered that she didn't like the fine work of sculpting and/or painting nearly as much as cutting with scissors, so she ventured into felt and fleece ornaments. And we launched a collaboration: I mass-produced the basic ornament shapes with the sewing machine, and she sat on the sewing room floor beside me and painstakingly cut tiny embellishments out of felt to personalize each to our respective family members. That Christmas, we made fleece stocking ornaments and she had a blast cutting and gluing all the little felt bits and sequins on them.

Here's a right-way-up photo if you'd like to zoom in to catch all the details. 

I also took some close-ups of a couple of ours on our tree this year. Here's Jenna's - there's a sugar cookie, a chocolate chip cookie, rolling pin, her flute and piano keyboard.

This is Emily's: boba tea, a paint dot card from her Etsy shop, a bucket hat and a treble clef (easier to cut out than a trombone, Kate thought!)

The following year, Kate started high school and with the transition came a drastically increased academic workload which kept them busy in classes up till the day before Christmas Eve. So we had to tweak our collaboration: she'd still pick the theme for the ornaments but rather than working side-by-side as we'd done before, I'd sew and stuff the basic ornament shapes days ahead and she'd work on embellishing them whenever she could squeeze in some time between homework assignments and studying for tests. That year, we made Christmas Trees, and she opted for favorite-color-coordinated buttons along with a few felt cutouts. Mass-production sewing tip: I didn't cut all those evergreen tree shapes exactly identical, which would've been too fiddly and bordering on lunacy. Instead, I used the bubble-cut technique outlined in the last post to get the edges of the front and back pieces of each ornament to perfectly align after sewing.  

Here's the ornament Kate made for me: a predominantly blue color scheme, my crocheted blanket WIP (she did knitting needles because they were easier to render than a crochet hook) and a couple of jigsaw puzzle pieces.

Here's Emily's: a sprig of lavender and a cup of chai with our black cat Milo's face on it.

Jenna's has a sugar cookie, her music headphones and purple buttons.

This past Christmas, the theme was Snowmen. Kate made her sketches in preparation - note the last snowman, which was her own, and its complete lack of detail. I'll come back to that later.

Once again, manic school schedules meant she'd be cramming the snowmen-decorating at the last minute, so I helped as much as I could ahead of time. I made the basic snowmen - filled, with pipecleaner arms and felt eyes and nose. I also made beanies and baseball caps according to her sketches.

The night before our Christmas party, we stayed up till 3 am to get them done.We put on a video, sat amongst tubs of felt and buttons, set out snacks for sustenance and worked together to get all the embellishments cut out so she could glue them on. It was insane, and not something I'd recommend on a regular basis, but so much fun that one night, fueled by the euphoria of finally being done with school for the year and on the brink of Christmas break.

Remember that featureless snowmen Kate had sketched for herself? On previous occasions that she'd made ornaments for everyone else, she'd never made one for herself because, as she'd explained, they were her gifts to us. This year, however, I decided that had to change. So I made her one for herself, but kept it a secret until she'd presented everyone with theirs. Sneaky!

So here at last is Kate's ornament, featuring some of the many things we celebrate about her: her music, her love of cheese, her swimming (goggles in its left hand), her growing love for her high school and all its opportunities (scarf in school colors), and of course Bunny.

It's so much fun to watch this handmade ornament collection grow as we add the new shapes of each subsequent year. I can't believe this is the only first Kate ornament to join the others on our tree but it looks like the start of yet another new tradition - that of me (or anyone else so inclined) surreptitiously making one for her at Christmases to come. 

What are some of your favorite handmade Christmas (and other holiday) traditions in your family? I'd love to read about them in the comments!


  1. I started a Christmas notebook many years ago. In it I have a calendar for Dec. that I list the temperature each day, weather, events etc. I have a journal where I jot down happenings and also how I’m feeling plus news happenings and I include a list of popular trends for the year along with the cost of things that year like gas and a gallon of milk. . I make everyone make Christmas lists even my now adult children and it has to be in their own writing even if they use Amazon wish lists. I keep track of gifts I want to buy and ones I actually bought, craft ideas, recipes, menus, Christmas cards. I have pockets that I’ve kept little feet reindeer and hand print snowmen. I also have a photo section where I make sure to print some photos from the holidays in January because so many photos get left in our phones. I pack it away every year with the holiday decor and look forward to kicking off the next holiday season by looking back on all the memories.

    1. I love this record-keeping tradition ! Even in the cost of groceries and current events, it's a snapshot of that moment in time and who you were and what your life was, which is impossible to capture otherwise in photos or videos or whatever the latest social media platform is. And yes, I agree that we should print out photos, because -and how true - they'd just stay on our phones, vulnerable to loss and crowding out by more recent ones. And even in a single year, so much happens that come next Christmas, it will feel like a long time ago. Thank you for sharing your traditions!

  2. This is a really cute tradition! I used to make everyone presents like Kate when I was a kid. It's my youngest, Anna, who continues the tradition with handmade gifts for all.

    1. I did, too, when I was a kid! How funny that it's both our youngests who are doing this now!

  3. Hello LiEr,
    I am not quite as organised, but I do save bits and pieces in the bottom of our Christmas decorations boxes, home made cards, letters to Father Christmas which had to be hidden for years so they did not know I kept them, home made decorations with the year dated on them and oldest of all, decorations from my husbands childhood.
    Next year I will put all these treasures together and keep them safe, my middle child will be the one to treasure these I think.
    Also the printed photos are a good idea. Thanks for sharing your stories.

  4. Rosemary B here: I adore this idea!
    I used to make Christmas birds of all kinds of styles, fancy and simple of felt. It is really fun. One year I made Llamas
    I love the brown bendy "pipe cleaners" arms. What a very cute idea.
    Now I want to make a few
    rosemary bolton at i cloud . com

  5. My husband and I don't have any kids but we often do holiday crafts together (chocolate bunny making contest! ) and have one Christmas tradition. We always walk the mile to St Pascal's tree lot to pick out our tree any carry it home on our shoulders. We bring battery powered lights to decorate the tree before bringing it home. We usually get a couple of honks and yells. So much fun! I have felt ornaments that my paternal grandmother made for each of us kids every year when in school. I cherish them so much. They will always have a place on the tree.

  6. That is so sweet - I love the bunny :)

  7. We have an ornament party every year. We collect art/junk/pieces from our local scrap exchange and I usually add one or two new items like little wooden dolls. We invite all our friends and put out glue guns and the drill and create a giant mess. People are so creative and come up with the most amazing things. It's my FAVORITE party of the year and the tree has lots of memories, which I agree are such a pleasure to look at. My kids are away now on the weekend that we do it so it's changing some - I miss them and their friends - but we're still doing it!


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