As the season of excess and excitement begins to wreak havoc on our budgets, it’s time to work out what we can afford to decorate our homes and fill our gift lists.

The glittering, gorgeous Christmas displays in so many stores are tantalizing, for sure. But there’s something uniquely satisfying about harnessing your own creativity to create holiday magic. From sweet, simple, alternative trees to clever ornaments and more, a do-it-yourself holiday can help curb the consumption of the season. Not to mention, you’ll have fun in the process! Check out these easy DIY Christmas ideas.

Magical ice lanterns

Materials: Medium to large plastic containers, plastic cups, evergreen springs and winter berries, tea lights

Ice lantern with red frozen tulips

Ice lantern with red frozen tulips

Ice lantern with red frozen tulips

Fill a small plastic cup with water and put it inside a larger plastic container (milk jugs with the top cut off work just fine). Fill the large container with water. Add evergreen sprigs and berries to the  larger container and freeze overnight. Remove the smaller cup and insert a tea light into the hollow. These make terrific luminaries to line a sidewalk before a party, but are pretty during the day, too.

Paper garland


Materials: Heavy craft paper (paper grocery bags work, too), string, craft glue, glitter or white pen, scissors

Cut the paper into large, longish triangles and line them up about 1-2 inches apart. Lay a long length of string along the short side of the triangles, then glue the triangles to the string, folding over the top edge. (Alternatively, punch two holes through each triangle and weave the string through.) Decorate with glitter, paint or spell out a holiday message.

Sheet music angels


Materials needed: Sheet music or book pages, string or ribbon, miniature ornament, hot glue gun

Cut two large pages in half so you have four pieces. Take two of the pieces and fold, accordion style. Glue them together along the edge to create a long accordion that will form the angel’s body. Cut the remaining pieces of paper in half again to create four pieces, and fold. Glue two pieces together for each angel arm, then glue each arm to the body piece. Glue the top of the angel to an ornament and hang with ribbon or string, fanning out the arms and the body for full effect.  

Craft a unique wreath


If you want to brighten up your front door for the holidays but a traditional evergreen wreath isn’t your style:

•    Coat a ceiling medallion (available at local hardware stores) with green high gloss spray paint, then loop through some colorful holiday ribbon for hanging.

•    Kids will love helping out with a Christmas crayon wreath. All you need is a round base ( a picture frame, a cardboard cutout, or Styrofoam), about three boxes of crayons, some paint, a hot glue gun and a ribbon. You can start by painting the frame, then attach the crayons with a hot glue gun. When dry, tie the ribbon around the wreath and hang.

•    Perfect for tech geeks, the wreath made from old computer or electronics components is a fun way to mix it up. Use the same technique as the crayon wreath.

No tree? No problem!


Alternative trees are not only unique and inexpensive, they’re also eco-friendly. A few ideas:

•    A step ladder can double as a Christmas tree. Thread colorful lights through the steps along with string for ornaments, and top the ladder with a star or a bundle of evergreen clippings.

•    Stick tree. A vase or decorated bucket filled with tree clippings is a handy stand-in for a tree, perfect for small spaces. Even a tree-shaped stick can be potted, then draped with colorful decorations to double as a tree.

•    Creating a book tree is like building a pyramid. Gather as many books as you can find, then sort them by size and shape. Use a large box as a base, then set the heaviest, largest books as a first layer around the box, in a circle. Build up from there, making each layer progressively smaller. (Use more boxes in the middle if necessary.) Hang lights and a few ornaments, then top the tree with a few branches or a star.

When the holidays are over

Those cards and wrapping paper don’t all need to end up in the trash after Christmas. Do your part by upcycling paper, tissue, ribbons and more—plus you’ll have a quiet, post-holiday project for the whole family.

•    Origami ornaments: With leftover or recycled wrapping paper you can make anything from stars and diamonds to balls, birds and flowers. Find plenty of tutorials online, or pick up an origami book.

•    Confetti: Package future gifts and baskets (such as Easter baskets) with colorful confetti or shredded paper. You just need scissors or a paper shredder.

•    Handmade cards:  Decorate plain cardstock with glued-down used or scrap wrapping paper to construct thank you notes, greeting cards or next year’s Christmas cards.

•    Reuse it! Carefully unwrap your presents, then fold the paper and use it to pre-wrap smaller boxes for future holidays.

•    Card recycling: St. Jude’s Ranch for Children in Nevada accepts old greeting cards and transforms them into new ones for next season. Only the front image of the card is used, so make sure there’s no writing on the backside. Learn more at stjudesranch.org. For DIY recycling, cut cards into gift tags for next year.