Early American Tree

Traditional, homemade Christmas tree decorations, from dried-fruit slices to a cranberry garland.
Set up a mid-19th-century tree.

Purchased ornaments were expensive and often available only in large cities, so homemade treats and toys were customary tree decorations in the mid-1800s. Tabletop trees were the norm until the Victorian era.

What You Need:

  • Small evergreen tree
  • Cookie-dough or salt-dough ornaments
  • Small wooden toys
  • Whole, fresh cranberries
  • Strong thread
  • Large needle
  • Apples and oranges
  • Raffia
  • Strips of gingham fabric
  • Tin or gold-foil star (see Step 4)


1. Dry the fruit slices. Cut apple and orange into 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick rounds. (If you have a dehydrator, follow the directions.) Dip apple slices in lemon juice to prevent them from turning brown. Place on a tray in a single layer and leave to dry overnight or several days. Hang with raffia and fabric bows.

2. String cranberry garland. Use needle and thread to string cranberries until desired length is achieved.

3. Make dough ornaments. Make cutout sugar cookies, or use any cutout dough recipe you wish. Punch holes for hanging in cookies with a straw before baking. When cool, hang with braided lengths of raffia.

4. To make a punched-metal star, cut out a star shape from a thin sheet of metal with tinsnips or an old pair of scissors. Trace a circle in center as desired. Place star on a flat piece of soft wood (such as pine). Hit an old screwdriver with a hammer to punch lines in design; hit a large nail with hammer to make smaller holes.

More Ideas:

  • To complete the rustic look, wrap burlap around the tree stand to cover it.
  • Place small-scale wooden antiques such as Shaker boxes, miniature furniture, musical instruments, alphabet blocks, and pull toys at the base of the tree.


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