Three Ways to Bring the Outdoors In (Even for Christmas!)

[Ed. note: This article is part of our weekly series of church activities, called Cultivating Community, published on Thursdays.]

It’s easy to bring the outdoors in during the spring and summer months, when bouquets of fresh flowers adorn our kitchen tables and church sanctuaries remind us—with a splash of color or a whiff of sweetness—of the splendor of this earth we are privileged to inhabit.

But can we remember that same splendor in the dark and cold of winter? Absolutely.

In fact, the holiday season is the perfect time to bring the outdoors in. Here are several holiday-related crafts you can do to leave a natural mark on your church space, your dinner table, and your gift-giving traditions this Christmas. Gather together your family or some folks from your church—these projects are great small group or youth group activities—and enjoy making these crafts together to keep your community bound to God’s creation, even when creation is frozen solid:

1. The non-floral arrangement
Even when it’s cold outside, a rainbow of cut flowers is still available from the supermarket. But think twice before purchasing some dahlias in December or jasmine in January. Massive amounts of energy are used to grow flowers year-round in heated (and cooled, depending on the climate) greenhouses, and even more energy (with its accompanying pollution) is used to transport the flowers around the world. The U.S. imports 60-80% of its cut flowers from countries in Latin America where workers are often denied fair wages and working conditions and sickened by exposure to unregulated, toxic pesticides.

There’s a better way. Do a little exploring in your backyard or neighborhood for winter greens, interesting fallen twigs and branches, berries, and dried seed- and flower-heads to decorate with this Christmas. Attractive arrangements can be made from the following:

  • Fallen or pruned evergreen tree boughs – Save some from trimming your own Christmas tree or check with local nurseries and Christmas tree sellers to see if they will donate discarded boughs.
  • Holly boughs and berries – But be careful! It’s true what the carol says: “The holly bears a prickle as sharp as any thorn.”
  • Winter berries – Depending on where you live, you may have access to any number of trees and shrubs that fruit at this time of year: beautyberry, black chokecherry, barberry, and some varieties of privet and myrtle are just a few to look for.
  • Seed-heads and dried flowers – If they’re still lingering in your garden beds, harvest some dried flowers (hydrangea, echinacea, and ferns are particularly arresting) and seed-heads to include in your arrangement.
  • Fallen twigs and branches – Sometimes the stark beauty of several bare and twisted branches arranged in a beautiful vase will suffice. Or, extend the craft by making (or encouraging kids to make) ornaments or paper cut-outs of blossoms and birds to adorn the branches.

Once you’ve warmed up from your outdoor collecting adventure, arrange your natural finds as you would flowers in a vase. This process is even easier than in warm weather, because this dried foliage doesn’t require water. Here’s one example of what this might look like:

Dried grasses, hydrangeas, and ferns contrast with evergreen branches in a backyard-picked winter arrangement.

2. The holly-day centerpiece
Scented pine cones, glittered ornaments, plastic branches and berries. These are the unnatural sorts of decorations that show up in stores and homes at Christmastime. But what are these things made of, and are they really worth $10.99 in the craft aisle? In 2004, scented pine cones from India were recalled by the USDA because they were infested with the larvae of an invasive, wood-boring beetle that feasts on pine forests. And plastic décor might be cheap, but it can contain toxic chemicals that might threaten your health while they’re in your home, and creation’s health as they may take up to 500 years to decompose. These aren’t the kinds of centerpiece materials you want to gather the family around at the Christmas Eve dinner table.

There’s a better way.Using many of the same natural items you collected for your “non-floral” arrangements, you can complement your Christmas dinner’s local food with some local beauty, too. Arrange a centerpiece of these twigs and branches in a glass vase filled with water and whole cranberries for a sort of jeweled effect. Or gather the plants together around a soy, palm oil, or beeswax candle (avoid candles containing lead or scents—often these emit dangerous carcinogens and neurotoxins).

Here’s one example of what this might look like:

Holly and cedar centerpiece.

Holly, cedar, and hydrangea was all it took to create this beautiful centerpiece. (cc image courtesy heatdurn via flickr)

3. Natural wrap
Each holiday season, Americans load up landfills with four million tons of wrapping paper and shopping bags. Not only do our sheets of candy cane-print paper and strands of shiny ribbon take up space on earth’s surface once they’re in the landfill, but the potentially toxic leachate leaked by landfills can pollute groundwater, and the methane released during decomposition is a powerful greenhouse gas.

Guess what. There’s a better way. Reduce that load on the world’s landfills by wrapping your Christmas presents creatively. Host a wrapping gathering and offer guests strips of old fabric, colorful newspaper pages, brown paper grocery bags (these are easy to draw or stamp on for added color and another fun activity for kids), and burlap to cover their gifts. With a little imagination, any material will do the job. Tie things up with some twine (which decomposes easily) or re-used (and re-usable) cloth ribbon, and add an outdoor flourish with a sprig of holly, greens, or a winter berry. Repurpose old scraps of paper for a gift tag, or even make one out of a wood chip or piece of bark. Here’s one example of what this might look like:

Natural gift wrap.

A favorite thing: brown paper packages tied up with twine and berries.

What are your outdoor-oriented, sustainable ideas for the holiday season?

Related Posts at Flourish
Get Outdoors This Christmas
Ditch the Stores and Get Outdoors!

Further Reading
Eco-Friendly Decorating Tips for a Green Christmas

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