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The holidays, other than being great for food, are a wonderful time for decorations and meaningful symbols, whether it’s a full-on light display outside, a menorah on the table, or any other assortment of candles to be lit, extinguished, and simply enjoyed for candle’s sake. It’s a time for festivities across religions, or lack thereof, and there is just something about fixing the place up with seasonal garb that brings us all closer together, makes home feel a smidge warmer, and gets everyone excited.

That, however, does not mean that we have to run out and buy a bunch of junk that gets tossed into the garbage come January. In fact, isn’t there much more to be said for natural decorations? A fake tree might be more convenient, cheaper, even safer, but it’ll never live up to the joy and memories (that smell!) a real tree gives, and in the end, that fake thing will fill up a dump rather than decomposing. Well, the same can be said for all sorts of holiday mainstays.

Making decorations at home and naturally provides so much more of a profound experience for everyone. Here are some suggestions for upping the holiday spirit with nothing more than what the world supplies.

Stick Stars

With the wintery gusts kicking in these days, trees dropping leaves and branches left and right, it’s easy to go outside and gather a few twigs. Cut them to equal lengths, get some natural twine and tie the ends together to make a nifty stick star. These can be hung on the wall, a door, dangled from the ceiling, or chained together to make a garland.

Stick Christmas Trees

Ideally, there would be leftover sticks from the stick stars, but even if that isn’t the case, more sticks should be abundantly available outside if one simply saunters along the sidewalk or tidies up the yard. Another simple project to do with them and a little upcycled cardboard is stick Christmas trees. Use a strip of cardboard as the trunk and either pin or glue different lengths the sticks horizontally to make a tree shape.

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Firewood Snowmen

Moving up in size a little, firewood snowmen are simple in theory to make, but they do require a bit of elbow grease. Crosscut three sections of logs into three separate discs of appropriate size to be the bottom, middle, and top of the snowman. Overlap the pieces slightly and nail them together with finishing nails. Drill a couple of holes for arms (traditionally done with sticks). Then, with a little ingenuity and while the saw is still out, it’s possible to also make a hat out of firewood, too.

Birch Bark (Paper) Chains

Birch trees shed their bark in papery like strips that can be gathered to make a birch bark “paper” chain. Just tear or cut the bark into strips and glue them into hoops, linking them together as you go to form a chain. Other possible bark providers could be eucalyptus or giant bamboo.

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Mixed Fruit & Nut Table Display

Table displays are all the rage at holiday time, and why shouldn’t they be? They can deliver ambiance, pleasant smells, and really tie a room together. One needs only to find that wooden tray stuffed in the back reaches of the bottom cupboard (or make one out of crosscut firewood) then top it off with beautiful stuff: Nuts and a cracker, oranges with pleasing patterns scraped into the skin and cloves pressed into them, bundled sticks of cinnamon, a sprig or two of rosemary or pine, a few pine cones, and maybe some cautiously situated tea candles. Nice.

Pine Cone Mobile

While gathering pine cones for the table display, why not grab a few extras to make some pine cone mobiles for the windows or high passageways. Grab a few long, lean pine branches that have fallen, perhaps even with tufts of needles sticking out, then using fishing line (or, even better, more natural twine), dangle pine cones at different heights. It’ll hang well somewhere.

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Pine and Winter Berry Candle

Winter and pine do go together, so we might as well push that motif to the max. Another thing that we associated with colder days is little red winter berries. For a nice display, stuff some pine needles into the bottom of a Mason jar, top them off with a couple of handfuls of winter berries, then balance a tea candle on that. It’s simple, it’s attractive, and it’s festive.

Tree Ornaments

There are many wild assortments of tree decorations that can be made with natural things. Crosscut sticks can be painted and fashioned into reindeer faces, Santas, or snowmen. Add a looped piece of twine to a pine cone, maybe a bow to go wild, and that’s another great ornament. Stick sprigs of winter berries in the tree. Bundle sticks of cinnamon (or just plain sticks) hang them. It’s not a big challenge to decorate the tree totally naturally once you get going.

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Rosemary Mini Wreaths

Mini rosemary wreaths can work well on a dinner plate, tacked on a door, or interlocked to form a wreath garland. Just bend a spring of rosemary into a circle, tie it together with a bit of something, and enjoy the aroma around the house.

Beyond being beautiful because nature is beautiful, the really beautiful thing about decorating with natural materials is that, when all is said and done, it can simply be returned to the earth—composted or used to mulch the garden—instead filling the dumps with more of the same old stuff we bought last year. This makes much more sense and can be really fun for the kids. We can celebrate the holiday and be responsible too.

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