Another Yule Log

My wife Emma is a bit of a holiday junkie, her already notably high energy level rising even higher as the calendar ticks nearer to year’s end. We have certain rules, like No Christmas movies before December, to try to curb the enthusiasm until (what I have insisted is) an appropriate time. While she has obliged my assessment, it has only meant that her engine is fully revved by the time she gets going.

Anyway, to the point, that time has most certainly rolled around again, and I’ve noticed a massive change in Emma’s holiday approach this year. In the winter of 2013, we’d only just discovered permaculture. In 2014, we were in England with her family. In 2015, we were in the US with my mother and stepfather (and mother-in-law). So, this is our first Christmas season with a home of our own since we knowingly adopted a permaculture lifestyle.

It’s been really fun to see how that energy has played out, and I believe it’s made this year’s celebration all the better, even before we’ve reached the holiday pinnacle. Here are some the awesome ways she has decorated our house being a little kinder to the planet and more appreciative of what is naturally provided by it. Perhaps these ideas are a bit late for others this year, but they are worth storing away for 2017.

Upcycled Signs

Candy Canes 5c. Image Courtesy Jonathon Engles.
Candy Canes 5c. Image Courtesy Jonathon Engles.

Lately, I’ve been elbow deep into reclaimed wood, namely making pallet furniture. I work for an organic farm where we have a free source of old pallets. Emma paints at the farm every weekend, and she began to use the wood scraps to make seasonal signs for our Saturday farmers’ market, which I coordinate. After the farm had enough signs, she began to fill our house with them. Her personal touch to these things have made them all the better to enjoy. They’ve been created with upcycled materials instead creating more trash, which feels in the right spirit. And, they instantly feel familiar and fun.

• 1000+ Ideas about Pallet Signs: Get them here.

Stick Stars

A month or so back, for one of our afternoon walks, Emma brought along a bag, and as we sauntered, she collected sticks and twigs from the pavement and gutter. She brought them home. Not long after, she bought some natural twine. Then, she cut the twigs and sticks into even lengths, tied them at the ends, and created stick stars. Soon those stars began to have sprigs of pine needles attached to them, and they were hanging on the walls of our apartment and dangling from the ceiling. When her mother arrived in early December, production increased, and the two of them had the apartment intergalactic in no time.

• Easy-bind instructions for making your own stick stars.

Pine Cones

Pine Cone Garland. Image Courtesy Jonathon Engles.
Pine Cone Garland. Image Courtesy Jonathon Engles.

Emma was looking for pine cones for weeks with little success. She’d all but given up when a vendor showed up to the farmers’ market with decorations made from pine cones, and they sent her right back to the same forest where we’d failed before, this time with directions to a different area. It turns out that many others were hip to the pine cone mission and, in fact, were now selling them on street corners. After some pretty perilous hiking along the hillside, I was able to find a few, and the next week, those same vendors brought Emma a bag full. Now, we have a beautiful pile of pine cones in the living room, as well as a dangling pine cone garland her mother pieced together with some old yarn.

• Pine cones are amongst the most respected of natural crafting materials.


Ivy is an ideal Christmas decoration and one that we were able to find in abundance growing over the tops of walls in Antigua, in particular our street. The photos, shelves, and curtain rods of our house, then, have slowly grown sprigs of leaves, creating a festive atmosphere. Plus, the ivy episodes have provided a laugh and some x-mas lore along the way. The bathroom has now been decorated with ivy only to later be plundered on multiple occasions. But, the funniest has been watching Emma “steal” the ivy from the wall, which is rampant with plant-life. Each time she frets furiously before letting they decorative instinct lead her into questionable corners.

• Who knew ivy is such an amazingly useful plant?

Cinnamon Bundles

Cinnamon Bundles. Image Courtesy Jonathon Engles.
Cinnamon Bundles. Image Courtesy Jonathon Engles.

Lucky for us, we live in a land where cinnamon grows. Not only do we have access to cheap cinnamon sticks, but they are locally sourced. From there, it seemed to take Emma little effort to direct her mother to turn them into noteworthy decorations that both beautified and scented the house. She took some rogue red yarn, tied the cinnamon sticks into bundles, and dotted them about the place. It worked a charm. After the holiday, we can put them to good use in the kitchen.

• Here’s a little info on growing cinnamon trees in temperate climates.

Rosemary Wreaths

With the introduction of pine cones and cinnamon, so came the ambiance of smell, and Emma’s other aromatic adventure was with rosemary. She took spindly sprigs from bushes at the farm, and with a bit of natural twine, they circled round into some miniature wreaths. My mother-in-law, craftily creative in her own right, fashioned a nice mobile out of a couple of sticks and several rosemary mini-wreaths. Again, at season’s end, we can put the herbs to good use.

• Rosemary, like all culinary herbs, is full with medicinal value.

Favorite Expressions

Holiday on Paper. Image Courtesy Jonathon Engles.
Holiday on Paper. Image Courtesy Jonathon Engles.

At this household, we are certainly fortune that Emma is loaded with artistic talent and energy, which allows us to always have access to something with fancy, well-proportioned lettering and nifty doodled embellishments. That’s exactly what Emma produced with some old sketch paper that a neighbor gave her not so long ago. Using snippets from songs and movies and a handful of different fonts and images, she quickly whipped up decorations to string across our kitchen window.

• Fun trivia about some common holiday/wintertime expression.

Paper Chains

Paper chains are an easy and familiar option for most of us, though they have been largely replaced by store-bought version—often plastic—of something similar. Emma dabbled with the idea of stringing popcorn (also more often seen in plastic these days), but ultimately, we decided to eat the popcorn and reuse old free-circulation tourist magazines to make paper chains. It was with this addition that pushed our holiday decorations from impressive to what Emma has claimed to be “like Santa’s grotto”.

• Check out the link to an entirely different, but equally important take on paper chains.

Yule Log

Yule Log Display. Image Courtesy Jonathon Engles.
Yule Log Display. Image Courtesy Jonathon Engles.

And, just to be sure that all the credit for this holiday spirit doesn’t go only to her, it was I who visited the woodpile to select the perfectly shaped (approved by the mother-in-law) yule log to place on prominent display in our living room. It was magically glazed with some sort of glittery substance that Emma immediately deemed “snail slime”, and it has now been combined with ivy, a cinnamon bundle, pine cones, and seeds shed from a tree on an adjacent street. The moment also inspired our (and, by our, I mean my) new holiday bathroom announcement: “I’m going to the woodshed for another yule log.”

• An interesting (and brief) history of the yule log.

The point of all this is not exactly to provide a guide to greener Christmas decorations so much as it is to note that, when we rethink what has become misguided second-nature habits, we have the potential to still enjoy our favorite things with a renewed appreciation for how we are doing it as much as why we are doing it. And, the planet comes out all the better for that. Watching Emma transform our tiny apartment, little by little, into what can only be described as full-on decorative decadence has been enlivening and enlightening. Our holiday hasn’t come in a box or from a shelf, but rather with the resources around us and imaginative willingness.

Stick Stars. Image Courtesy Jonathon Engles.
Stick Stars. Image Courtesy Jonathon Engles.

Feature Photo: Sleigh Rides 25. Image Courtesy Jonathon Engles.

Jonathon Engels

The financially unfortunate combination of travel enthusiast, freelance writer, and vegan gardener, Jonathon Engels whittled and whistled himself into a life that gives him cause to continually scribble about it. He has lived as an expat for over a decade, worked in nearly a dozen countries, and visited dozens of others in the meantime, subjecting the planet to a fiery mix of permaculture, music, and plant-based cooking. More of his work can be found at Jonathon Engels: A Life About.

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