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Holidays Done Simply with Salt Dough

Fragile ornaments? Precious heirlooms? Christmas is for kids, not for perfection.

JiaYing and Chris Grygiel whip up salt-dough ornaments with their sons Joseph, 5, and Paul, 18 months.


Growing up, Christmas was never a big deal in our immigrant household. In Taiwan, Christmas is barely a retail blip and the real festivities don’t kick in until lunar New Year. The one year we had a tree, it was only because my ever-practical mom got it for free through her English class. The tree overwhelmed our apartment’s living room, completely bare of any lights or décor, until my mom got tired of the shedding needles and threw it out.

I’m not a Scrooge, but I did inherit some of that practical minimalism when it comes to holiday cheer. The one holiday craft I manage to pull off with my boys is the easiest art project ever. Flour. Salt. Water. If you have those three things in your kitchen (plus a tolerance for a mess), you are ready to make salt dough ornaments.

Let’s get a little more specific: 4 cups of flour, 1 cup of salt and 1½ cups of hot water. Mix everything together, and add a little more water until you get a good dough consistency. Roll out the dough, punch out shapes with cookie cutters, and poke a hole with a straw at the top so you can hang it. Ornaments can air-dry if you have that kind of patience, or bake them in the oven at 325 degrees for an hour. Cool, then decorate. Markers and stickers work well for little kids; bigger kids can get fancier with paint and glitter (if you dare).

I love a shiny, Pinterest-ready tree as much as anyone. But fragile ornaments? Precious heirlooms? Christmas is for kids, not for perfection.

Last year’s creations held up over their hibernation, but salt dough ornaments aren’t meant to last forever. The fun is in making them, not hoarding them. We made a bunch of extra ornaments to give to friends. Each time my son handed one out, I told the adult, “It can go in the compost when you’re done.” (We are Seattleites, after all.)

Less stuff plus lower standards equals happier holidays.

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