Looking for some international inspiration this festive season? Explore these unique Christmas decorations from around the world and maybe even try your hand at a fun DIY.
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Universe of straw – Finland
Himmeli are those trendy geometric ornaments or mobiles that have become all the rage in recent years. They originated in Finland and are traditionally suspended over the dining table during the harvest turned holiday season.
The name, himmeli, has Norse roots and translates to sky or heaven. Traditionally, himmeli would have been made from straw or reeds. It was thought that the larger and more complex the himmeli, the more abundant the crop for the coming year would be.
Modern himmeli are often made from brass pipes, plywood or even drinking straws. For my first foray into making himmeli, I used compostable gold drinking straws and gold baker’s twine for the brass look without the price tag. I can also throw them in the compost at the end of the season if I don’t have space to store them and straws are easy to cut to size if you want to experiment with different designs. Here’s a quick how-to by Unleash Creative.
Sparkly spider webs – Ukraine
Ukrainian folklore tells of a pine sapling appearing through the floor of a poor widow’s hut. When Christmas arrived, the tree had grown tall but the penniless family could not afford to decorate it. They went to bed on Christmas Eve dejected. On Christmas morning they found the tree covered in cobwebs that had turned silver and gold in the sunlight and the family lived prosperously from then on.
This lovely Christmas story is remembered each year by Ukrainians who decorated their trees with decorations resembling spiders and spider webs in gold or silver colours. They are often made from beads, tinsel, glitter or metallic paper. Enjoy making your own shimmering cobwebs and friendly arachnids that will take you from Halloween to Christmas, with this video by World Crafted.
26-point geometry lesson – Germany
The Moravian star began as a school project and became a popular Christmas decoration. It all began with a geometry class during the 1830s at the Moravian Boy’s School in Niesky, Germany. Referred to as Herrnhuter Stern in German, the stars were adopted by the Moravian Church, a Protestant denomination, as a representation of God and symbol of the star of Bethlehem. The stars are used to decorate between Advent (four Sundays prior to Christmas) through to Epiphany (early to mid-January depending if you’re following the Gregorian or Julian calendar).
Moravian missionaries took the stars with them around the world spreading them as far as the West Indies, Greenland, Suriname and India. Moravian stars are the official Christmas street decoration of Winston-Salem, North Carolina which was originally settled by members of the Moravian church. A giant 31-foot star also illuminates the tower of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in the town.
There are various forms of Moravian stars, but the traditional style has 26 points. Usually, the 26th point is removed to allow for hanging/mounting. In technical geometric terms, this makes it an “augmented rhombicuboctahedron”. The easiest ways to make your own Moravian star is to buy a kit like this one, or you can purchase ready-made ones such as these ones made in Pennsylvania, or these from the original manufacturer in Germany.
Heart baskets – Denmark
A traditional Danish Christmas decoration is a heart-shaped paper basket called julekurver. These were typically hung around the home and contained holiday treats.
It is said that popular children’s story author, Hans Christian Andersen, may have begun making these heart-shaped ornaments in the 1860s though they weren’t intended specifically for Christmas. The oldest julekurver is preserved at the National Museum of Denmark and dates back to 1873.
It took some four decades before they became widespread and homemade julekurver are still popular today. You can find a basic tutorial for making the simplest of woven Danish hearts in the video below. There are patterns for more complex designs available all over the internet including these.
Starry, starry lanterns – Philippines
Continuing our journey through Christmas decorations from around the world, we arrive in the Southeast Asian nation of the Philippines. Here parol, star-shaped lanterns are used to decorate homes, businesses and city streets during the festive period.
Like the poinsettia, the parol’s five-point star formation is symbolic of the Star of Bethlehem. The decorations date back to Spanish colonial times when they were simple rectangular shapes made with bamboo and rice paper, illuminated with candles or oil lamps.
Parols evolved into more complex shapes by the 1830s but did not become the typical, star-shape with two tassels that we know today, until the American colonial period in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Modern parols are made of various materials including capiz which comes from the shell of a mollusk common to the waters of Southeast Asia. There are also supercharged, kaleidoscopic versions of parols produced in the Pampanga province of the Philippines and named parul sampernandu.
Pretty poinsettias – Mexico
More of a gardening project than a craft DIY, the poinsettia is a native plant of Mexico and Guatemala. The red leaves (not flowers) have been associated with Christmas since the 16th century when, according to legend, a poor young girl did not have a gift for the baby Jesus at Christmas service. An angel instructed her to pick weeds and place them in front of the church where the weeds blossomed into vivid red poinsettias.
From that time on, poinsettias became known as Flowers of the Holy Night (Flores de Noche Buena in Spanish), although again they are technically leaves not flowers). The shape of the leaves is said to represent the Star of Bethlehem which led the Wise Men to Jesus. The name poinsettia comes from the name of an American ambassador to Mexico who was responsible for sending the first cuttings back to the US in the early 1800s.
If you’re not much of a green thumb or don’t live in the right climate, you might try these giant mesh poinsettia-inspired decorations these holidays.
Furoshiki – Japan
Ok, this isn’t technically a Christmas decoration, but I think we can all agree that the beautiful Japanese gift wrapping, using cloths known as furoshiki, looks trés chic under the tree and it’s eco-friendly! Koreans have a similar technique and they call their wrapping cloth bojagi.
Traditional gift wrapping with a single piece of cloth began in Japan more than 1200 years ago originally to keep valuables for Emporers during the Nara Period (710-784). Later, in the Muromachi Period (1338-1573), Shogun Ashikaga built a great bathhouse in his residence. Feudal lords were invited to enjoy the steam bath and used silk cloths adorned with their family crest to keep their belongings separate while they bathed. This is how furoshiki got it’s modern name: “furo” meaning “bath” and “shiki” meaning “to spread”. From the Edo Period, use of furoshiki to carry items of all types became widespread.
You can source your cloth from so many places, from traditional Japanese furoshiki or bojagi cloths and recycled sari silks bought online, to scrap fabric from around the home including scarves, tea towels or even hankies for very small gifts. The following tutorial demonstrates the most basic furoshiki tie for a rectangular object, but the Japanese have mastered this technique for gifts of all shapes including cylinders, bottles, spheres etc.
What do you think of these different Christmas decorations from around the world? Did they give you some inspiration and ideas? Do you have a unique style of decoration from your home country? Please share it with us in the comments.
Peace, love & inspiring travel,