For Yule, I’m decorating my house in garlands of cranberries, dried orange slices, cinnamon sticks, and star anise, and making a wreath that I will post on next. There is also a pine cone garland, I’ll talk about that briefly at the end. This is not only a nice old fashioned and natural way to deck the halls, it smells nice, and has some lovely magical properties to brighten the season.
Cranberries have an interesting and familiar bit of Finnish lore to them. The maiden goddess Marjatta ate a cranberry and by doing so, conceived a child. She was sent away in disgrace for bearing a fatherless child. Homeless, she gave birth in a stable. Fortunately, the baby is adopted by Väinämöinen, son of the father of oceans and an air goddess, hero of many Finnish legends. Cranberries were regularly used to decorate trees for Yule, as they keep and dry well on a cord and retain their bright color.
My orange slices I dried using a technique mentioned below. They are a fruit of love and fertility, and a just reward for victories. They strengthen seekers of quests.
Cinnamon is also a symbol of love, and tied to The Lovers tarot card, as well as being a visionary and purifying substance. It has been used as incense in temples even in ancient China. Wearing cinnamon can inspire good fortune, concentration, and correct mindset for ritual work.
Star anise is also used as a temple incense. It is excellent for invoking your chosen deities while dispelling negative energies. It is connected to the tarot card of The Fool, in his joyous trust of the now. This can even bring peace to those nearing death.
The string I used is a cotton embroidery thread, because I wanted durability. The color matters a little, as there are invariably some gaps here and there when they are strung up. Stick with 100% cotton or non-mercerized material – basically, something that would break apart if ingested by an animal or small child. You will also need a needle large enough for your thread (in my case, since I opted for a thicker string than your standard sewing thread, I used an embroidery needle and a needle threader).
I bought two standard packages of fresh cranberries, and only used about half of each because I was cherry picking the best ones for the garland. That amount got me the 4′ multi-item strand, and about 9′ of straight cranberry garland. They go far. I used them straight out of the bag, but you can rinse and dry them first if you prefer.
I dried out about 4 navel oranges’ worth of slices (the peel on the unused ends can be used for other purposes), but for a garland one is enough. You can also use Mandarin oranges if you prefer smaller slices. I just wanted them for extra projects since they will keep. Slice them thinly and evenly, about 1/4″-1/3″ thick (you can see I wasn’t precise about this, do better than me), so they dry out completely. Put them in a dehydrator for 135° (or per machine instructions) and check then every two hours until they are done (or be lazy like me and just leave then overnight). A second method of drying is to use the oven on a very low temperature with the door cracked to let out moisture.
You can find less expensive whole star anise and cinnamon sticks at ethnic grocery stores, bulk natural food stores, and of course, online. Depending on the pattern you end up going with, you may not need very many. I only used star anise on the ends, for example.
To begin, plan out the space you will be hanging the garland. You want to measure out the length of string, and add a couple feet if you are tying in cinnamon sticks and star anise. Its better to be a bit too long and need to trim, but in worst case, you can tie on extra string and hide the knot inside a cranberry. Length does mean dealing with all that cord while your stringing your materials, so be methodical so you don’t get tangled up. Work out tangles gently, use the tip of your needle to pry knots open.
Decide on a pattern. I used: 5 cranberries, 1 cinnamon, 5 cranberries, 1 cinnamon, 1 orange, 1 cinnamon, and repeat.
Start with a loop wide enough for whatever you might be planning to attach it to. This is also something you can fix post production if you absolutely have to, but it’s a pain and doesn’t usually look as tidy. Then just below the loop’s knot, I like to start with a star anise. I don’t know why but it’s become tradition for me to have them at each end. You want to wrap string around a couple times at different angles to get between different points in the star, them double knotting it for security.
Thread your needle, and you can bring a lot of the excess string through to shorten the length the cranberries have to go. Just let it out as needed. Firm cranberries work best. Be careful running them down the thread! Too fast or without care can cause the string to saw right through them.
Tying the cinnamon sticks is the most tiresome part for me, but they add so much in terms of aesthetic and scent that they are worth the effort. I do one tie on them just to get them in place, and hold them there with one finger while trying the second knot to secure it. Sometimes it still isn’t taunt enough so I do a second loop and double knot. It doesn’t need to be super tight if you can’t manage it. One option is to add a drop of hot glue to really make sure it stays. Depends how “all natural” you want to go.
When you reach the end, tie on another star anise, and make a loop. Trim excess. The garland does not need any topcoat or protective spray – left hanging it will dry nicely, so long as the environment is not humid.
I also made one of just cranberries to hang across the window. Even my stepdaughter (11) was able to string a few of them with ease.
Now you may have noticed a pine cone garland as well. I did not make that myself, as I could not find access to pine cones I could gather. I would have to buy them anyhow, so I bought a premade garland. But if you have pine cones and want to do it yourself, you can check out one method of doing so at The Magic Onions: How to Make a Pinecone Garland.