Traditional Yule Decorations

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Yule decorations that can easily be made at home. These decorations are all more or less traditional: some are Victorian, some go back to the Middle Ages, and some are thought to continue Pagan traditions. They don’t use electricity, and they aren’t expensive. They are easy to make at home, and they are also low tech although the decorated votive candle uses a color printer. Even better they are dual purpose, because they make simple gifts or they can be used as package decorations. Some can be used to decorate a Christmas tree. They include a Pinecone and Cinnamon Door Hanger, Pine Garlands, small Holly and Ivy Wreaths, a Decorated Votive Candle, Spekulatis Cookies and Clove Oranges.

Pinecone and Cinnamon Door Hangers

This is a Victorian tradition that adds a nice fragrance. They look pretty at the holidays, and every time someone goes through the door the cinnamon scent is wafted through the house.

Cinnamon and Pinecone Door Hanger What you will need:
• pinecones and seed pods (a bag of fancy potpourri can be used if you can’t collect your own)
• cinnamon sticks (buy them in the bulk section of the spices at a health food store)
• small bells, optional, with wire loops on them so they will jingle
• pretty ribbon about 3 feet long for each one. If you prefer country style, use raffia or jute twine
• fine cord, wire or glue to fasten them together

Use fine gold cord or florists’ wire and wire the pinecones and seed pods together in a cascading fashion (or you can use a glue gun which is faster, but not as low tech). Make a loop in the ribbon big enough to go over the door knob, or whatever you plan to hang them on, and tie a knot in it. Next make a bow, add another knot, tie in the cinnamon sticks and then tie the long ends through the pinecones. Small bells are optional, but they are especially nice on a door if you like the sound. Pinecone hangers can be hung on the doorknobs and they make nice package decorations and decorations for a Christmas tree too. When the holidays are over, you can remove the ribbons and bells and save those to reuse next year.

Pine Garland

Pine Garland, seen from the back to show the strings that tie it together.

Garlands made from the fruits of the season are a traditional expression of religious piety among Pagans. They are tied with ribbons and hung in the temples and over the fireplace at home according to Cato the Elder, writing in Rome in 160 BCE, but everyone does this. It seems to have been universal in Europe to bring in evergreens in winter to brighten up the house and to provide a reminder that spring will come again. By Victorian times, evergreen swags were traditionally used to ornament every bit of woodwork: around the doors and windows, on the banister of the stairs, on the mantel, around the frames of mirrors and pictures and along the edges of tables and other furniture. That may be too much to expect if you don’t have a full time staff of servants to help you, so these instructions are for one pine garland about 3 feet long.

What you will need:
• boughs of pine or fir, and if you can get it holly, herbs like rosemary or bay and mistletoe, or any evergreen leaves available in your area (ferns and palm fronds in some places!). I walked around and picked up these branches in the forest after a storm so I didn’t have to cut branches off the trees. You can also buy evergreens wherever they sell Christmas trees.
• ribbons, each one 3 times as long as the garland you plan to make, or use string
• you may need small hooks to hang the swags from

Lay the boughs out in a line on a table. Fold one ribbon in half and tie a knot about 6 inches from the fold, so that the shorter end can be used to tie the swag to something. Then take the long ends of the ribbon and begin wrapping and crisscrossing them around the branches almost as if you were braiding all three (the two ribbon ends and the row of pine boughs) together. Every now and then, knot the ribbons together to give it strength and then keep wrapping. When you get near the end of the boughs, knot the ribbons again and let the ends of the ribbons hang loose. The garlands can be looped over the top of a door frame (very traditional) or placed along the edge of a table or around a centerpiece. I always end up with some evergreen branches left over and I just put them in a vase of water. They look beautiful and smell nice.

Holly and Ivy Wreaths

Holly and Ivy Wreath

These are easier than a pine swag. They are small and this one took less than 10 minutes to make and because English ivy is considered an invasive weed around here, it is a public service to cut it. You really should rip it out by the roots, but at least this is a small contribution to the public good and it looks quite charming.

What you will need for each wreath:
• 3 or 4 strands of ivy, about 1 and 1/2 feet long each (variable)
• 1 bright ribbon to tie it up with, about 1 foot long
• a bit of holly with red berries to tuck in

Choose ivy with long, flexible stems and if possible, white veining on it and deeply divided leaves. The flexible stems are easy to work with and the white veins and divided leaves are lighter and prettier as decoration. Take the longest ivy strand you have and twist it into a circle. Add the other strands, twisting them around the first circlet. They should stay in place when done. Make a loop in the ribbon about 2 inches long (or however long it takes for you to be able to loop it over something, such as a nail or a tree branch) and then tie a knot. Take the ends and tie them around the circlet of ivy, and tie a bow. Tuck in the holly branch so that the berries show. This can be hung on the wall or on a tree or any place you think it will look pretty. It can even be worn as a chaplet or crown.

Decorated Votive Candle to Brighten the House at the Winter Solstice

This Decorated Votive Candle makes an illuminated decoration for the household and is very easy and inexpensive. A burning light is a traditional form of offering to a Goddess. This is a simple way to make a decoration in honor of the Goddess Frigg for Modraniht and even if you don’t have a fireplace, you can have a tiny Yule Fire at the Winter Solstice.

The easiest and probably the safest way to use a candle for decoration is to put one in a tall narrow glass of the kind they sell in grocery stores or use a tall straight sided beverage glass with a heavy bottom. Use a votive candle in a scent that you like. Bayberry smells great and is traditional this time of year, at least in the US. Of course, in the old days people used to go out and pick the bayberries and use them as a source of wax, but it takes about two days to pick enough bayberries to make enough wax to fill an eggshell, so just buy a scented candle. Beeswax is nice too and smells like honey. Decorate the outside of the glass and add the candle. It’s pretty and cheerful in the dark time of the year.

Votive Candle Glass for the Goddess Frigg What you will need:
• a tall narrow glass with straight sides and a heavy bottom
• a votive candle (or a battery powered flicker light)
• a sheet of vellum stationery, white or colored as you prefer
• pictures of your favorite Goddess printed on the vellum stationary
• bit of transparent tape

From the internet, print out pictures of your favorite Goddess or God on vellum stationary (you can buy a single sheet at office stationary stores or better art and craft stores). I used several pictures of Frigg which I collected from various sites on the net and I placed them all on the same page of a document. The picture showing is by Inertia Rose and was saved from her site at http://InertiaRose.deviantart.com. I printed the pictures out by putting the vellum in the color printer. Cut the sheet of vellum to fit the glass and tape the edges at the top and bottom to hold it in place. Put the candle in and light it and let the light shine through!

Because I used a bit of tape to hold the picture in place, I can remove the vellum picture and put it away when the season is over. That will keep it fresh until next year.

I use these little fake battery candles, sometimes called flameless candles, so I won’t forget to blow them out and burn the house down. They don’t smell nice like beeswax or bayberry candles, but they are still cheerful and somewhat exotic looking. #cookie

Spekulatis Cookies

Weinbacher spinner mold, from Nurnberg, 1880's, replica for sale at

Spekulatis Cookies are made with a wooden mold and have the form of rather elaborate pictures. These cookies look pretty sitting on a plate when people come over, or they can be put in cellophane bags and tied with a ribbon to give as gifts. Cookies are a traditional gift at this time of the year, but if at all possible, bake your cookies with someone else, because baking cookies together is a traditional activity, too. These cookies are made with a wooden mold which you can buy or make yourself with a little piece of pine plank and a gouge. This one looks like it was made with a router. Ceramic spekulatis molds can be found for sale in the stores and they often show rocking horses or angels. Spekulatis cookie mold of a windmill

It is said that the designs on old cookie molds may go back to Pagan times. One design going back to Medieval times shows a woman spinning probably because that was a common sight, but some Pagan authors say that this is an image of a Goddess with a distaff and spindle or a spinning wheel representing the turning of the year. That would certainly be an appropriate representation of Frigg, who is the Goddess most associated with the Winter Solstice in Germanic tradition. She is the mother of the Gods in Norse myth, hence the name Modraniht “Mothers Night” for the celebration of Yule. The constellation Orion which is very conspicuous in the winter sky is called Frigg’s distaff in the old star lore of the northern people. Other traditional designs for cookie molds show horses, bears and stars, all of which are important at this time of year according to Pagan traditions.

However, the ones that I have seen are of wild and domestic animals, of the professions, (a fisherman, a weaver, etc.), the stars, the sun and other common sights in town and country life. Spekulatis means “mirror” and the designs may have been introduced when people began using wooden blocks to print images in books. But cookie or bread presses with carved designs are far older than the introduction of printing in the West and are known from archaeological digs where they are generally referred to as pintaderas.

You can make white or brown cookies (*brown ones with brown sugar and cloves; *white ones with white sugar and vanilla). This recipe uses ground clove spice which is very old fashioned but cinnamon is nice, too. I also give a gluten free alternative.
Spekulatis cookie, made from a wooden mold

What you will need:
• a spekulatis mold
• vegetable oil to put in the mold
• extra flour to dust the molds
• plus cookie ingredients, as follows:

Recipe for Spekulatis Cookies
Stir together:
2 and 3/4 cups flour (for WGF or gluten free, use: 1/2 garbanzo bean flour and 1/2 millet flour)
*2 teaspoons of ground cloves (put these in the “brown cookies”)
*1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger (put this in the “brown cookies”)

Then mix together
1 1/2 sticks of softened butter (= 1/4 plus 1/8 of a pound of butter)
1 1/4 cups of sugar (*packed dark brown sugar for “brown cookies” and *white sugar for “white cookies”)
1 large egg
1 tablespoon of milk
*1 teaspoon of vanilla (put this in the “white cookies”)
Stir all this into the flour mixture, wrap the dough in wax paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 8 hours or overnight.

To bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the cookie sheets. Brush the molds with vegetable oil and with flour to help the cookies come out. Pull off pieces of dough and press them into the molds. Carefully pull the cookie dough out of the mold, trying to keep the shape. Put the cookies on the greased cookie sheets as you go. Cut away extra cookie dough around the edges of the picture. Spekulatis cookies usually have an irregular border. Try to make sure they are all about the same size (using the same amount of dough), so they will cook evenly.

Make a bunch of these, dusting the molds with flour each time, and keep them apart on the cookie sheets so they don't cook into one big lump. When you have enough to fill a baking sheet, bake them at 350 degrees until the edges are a bit brown. The time will vary depending on how big your cookie molds are: some spekulatis cookie molds are a foot high. These cookies only took about 8 minutes, although the recipe said 20 to 25 minutes, so be careful not to burn your first batch.

If you are giving these cookies to a really good friend or family member, you might want to give them the cookie mold and a copy of the recipe printed out on a pretty card along with a plate of cookies tied with a ribbon.

Clove Oranges

Pomanders or clove oranges are very traditional going back to the Middle Ages, and they were often given as gifts when oranges were precious. They smell good and they are very pretty, but you can’t eat them. It’s fun to get together with friends and make them as a project. Children can do it.

Clove Oranges, a new one and an old one which still smells nice What you will need:
• oranges, the smaller they are, the easier
• ribbons, about 1/4 inch wide, and about 3 feet long for each orange
• about 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of cloves for each orange (or count 100 cloves for the design shown here)
• something to poke holes, like a ballpoint pen and/or a pencil. Some people use an awl but I can never find mine.

Cloves are really expensive ($8 a bottle) if you buy them in the spice section of a regular grocery store, but I found the same amount, about 2 tablespoons for 85 cents in the bulk spices section of a health food store (even though it says $35.00 a pound, they don’t weigh anything hardly). Other spices show comparable variations in price, including cinnamon sticks.

Cloves, enough for one clove orange Loop the ribbon twice around the orange and tie a knot near the top of the orange. Then tie a second knot about six inches above the orange to use to hang it, and then tie a bow above that to finish it off.

Start by making holes at the bottom and pushing in 4 cloves to hold the ribbon in place and then four cloves at the top also. If it is too hard to push them in, so that it hurts your fingers or the cloves break, poke bigger holes using a pencil. It should not be difficult. Make holes and push the cloves into the orange in rows along the ribbons, starting at the top and working down in a straight line. Keep adding more rows of cloves. The cloves can be about a 1/4 inch apart. When the cloves are all added, hang the orange up and as it dries the peel will contract and the cloves will draw together holding the ribbon in place. It will smell nice the whole time. If you have small oranges, or a large tree, you can hang these on the tree, too. They are very bright and look like golden Suns. You can use other designs for the cloves such as spirals or runes. The clove oranges eventually dry up and look like dinosaur hide but they still smell nice years later. [fuggle26]

All of these decorations are fun to make with other people especially children and they are fun to share, and they will make the house smell fresh and cheerful in winter. A lot of holiday traditions probably have more to do with fragrance than religion.

Here is a link to a list of Yule Songs that you can sing or make a CD of, to brighten up the holidays.

© 2007, last updated 11/28/2016, piereligion.org/yuledeco.html