Back in the 1960s and '70s, the aroma of Elmer’s glue and spray paint was as much a symbol of the holiday season as was the smell of cookies baking. Craft projects were made from household objects and a lot of implements that today aren’t considered safe for kids. Not to mention that a lot of the building foundations for these decorations have long since ceased production. How many of these homemade items did you have on display at your house back in the day?
1. READER’S DIGEST CHRISTMAS TREE
Old issues of Reader’s Digest are the Tribbles of the magazine world; left alone on a shelf or in a box they just seem to multiply on their own. This readily available supply made for an inexpensive and time-consuming craft project that kept kids busy enough to give their teacher a breather for an hour or so. By laboriously double-folding each page of the magazine into an isosceles triangle, then gluing the front and back covers together, you could create a small table-top Christmas tree. Then the real fun began—the decorating. With no restrictions on the amount of spray paint and glitter that could be used, the end result sometimes seemed reflective enough to deflect laser beams.
2. IBM WREATHS
Remember the early days of computing, when we saved data on 3.5 floppy disks? Those old dinosaurs were positively futuristic compared to punch cards, the standard storage medium of the 1950s. Usually generically referred to as “IBM cards,” they were often disposed of carelessly, despite the sensitive information they contained. (Of course, back then, not many average folks had access to a UNIVAC, so identity theft was not a major consideration.)
Used IBM cards were plentiful (and free) in the 1960s and '70s, so fashioning Christmas wreaths out of them helped to keep tons of paper out of landfills. Cynical types at the time were able to find a deeper meaning in such decorations, such as encroaching faceless technology replacing traditional warm holiday cheer, but most of us just enjoyed transforming someone’s free discards into a pretty floral spray.
3. GOD’S EYES
These colored yarn decorations were fairly easy and fun to make and were frequently an art class school project. Of course, before you could actually start wrapping your sticks in earnest you always had to first sit through a brief history lesson on the Ojo de Dios and its spiritual connotations in Mexico. Kids still make a variation of these in school and Cub Scouts today, but odds are they don’t use the same type of sticks to construct them as those that were handed out back in the day—pointy wooden skewers that could take an eye out quicker than a Red Ryder BB gun. In some regions, those short wooden lances were called “city chicken sticks,” as they were primarily sold for the purpose of concocting this Midwestern delicacy. Of necessity they were sharp enough to easily pierce through large chunks of pork and veal, and kids' God’s eyes never failed to stab Mom in the hand when she reached into the box of Christmas decorations every year.
4. Flashcube Ornaments
With slender fingers and a lot of patience, you could remove the used bulb from the inside of a Sylvania flashcube and then use the empty cube as a tiny tree ornament. You could paste photos on it, or place decorative gee-gaws inside and then add a ribbon tie to the top.
5. L’eggs Egg Ornaments
From the time L’eggs pantyhose debuted in 1969 until 1991, they were sold in plastic egg-shaped containers that were easy to repurpose as a craft project. The shape had “Easter decoration” written all over it, but the egg could also be turned into a holiday tree ornament with the right colors and wintery flourishes.
6. Milk Carton Ornaments
Squat little single-serving cartons used to be standard issue for school lunches, but in recent years, some districts have turned to serving milk in bags (it’s a landfill thing) or have eliminated milk altogether (it’s a saturated fat thing). But when little cartons were plentiful, it was a common classroom project to decorate them and make either tree ornaments or little buildings for an under-tree village.
7. Jar Lid Ornaments
We used to have more variety in metal jar lids 30 years ago. Instant coffee was still a big seller and was sold in glass jars with screw-top lids, and each brand and flavor of jelly had a fairly ornamental metal cap. Once the jar was empty, you could cut a pretty picture from one of last year’s Christmas cards and paste it inside the lid. If the circumference of the lid was somewhat blah, you’d jazz it up with glitter or garland. Attach a hanger of some sort, and voilà!
8. Bottle Cap Trivets
If you had some rudimentary crocheting skill you could turn an ordinary crown-style bottle cap into a snowflake. Well, you actually need more than one cap, but once they’re all covered in yarn you simply fasten them together for a decoration that’s not only pretty but also functional (as a “coaster” for hot pans and dishes).
9. Macaroni Wise Men
For many years, a craft company called Pack-O-Fun sold kits that contained empty frames shaped like the Three Wise Men. You had to supply pasta of differing shapes to make their hair and beards and crown jewels.
10. Dish Detergent Santa
Despite this craft commonly touted as an “easy, anyone can do it” type of craft, you needed a bit of sewing prowess, a pattern, and a store-bought doll’s head to turn empty Ivory or Palmolive dish detergent bottles into Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Did you spray paint pine cones or pin sequins onto Styrofoam balls as a holiday ritual once upon a time? Share your favorite homemade holiday crafts with the rest of us!