Although Thanksgiving is a traditional American past-time, since making my first ever Thanksgiving Tree last year, I would recommend the concept to anyone. Their significance stretches far beyond the grand US of A, and even the month of November.
This simple idea is a communal one, designed to be the focal point of a party spread or family room in the build up to the big day. As with most things, I found the idea on Pinterest.
Beneath the tree (which can take any form you like really, from cardboard cut-outs to garden twigs), should sit a pot containing blank paper leaves and a pen. Every guest or family member takes it in turn to write one thing they are thankful for on each leaf, which – you guessed it – is then hung on the tree.
Depending on the situation, it’s up to you how you do it. For me, hosting a group girlfriends at my place for dinner, I set up the tree with just a few of my own thankful leaves to start things off, then the writing/hanging was a fun conversation-starter as the Pilgrim’s Punch flowed during arrivals. Following a sumptuous feast and several glasses of wine, the thanks flowed further, with people writing them at the table and declaring them as they did – prompting much debate and silliness as they stood to hang them off the nearest branch.
As entertaining as the practice was (could being thankful for the invention of GHDs really be just as credible as the wonders of modern medicine?), it has a real significance. Being thankful for our lot is clearly a course of thought we should encourage beyond one Thursday a year – and so, it is testament to the enduring sentiment expressed on those leaves by my closest friends (and my laissez-faire approach to clearing up after a good party) that the tree from last year still decorates a corner of our living room today. What will we hang on the branches this year?
To make one like mine, you will need:
- A cluster of large spindly birch branches, spray-painted and tied together securely
- A large sturdy vase
- ~1.5Kg of popcorn kernels (unpopped, obvs)
- 8 sheets of multicoloured card (autumn colours, red, yellow, orange etc.)
- A pencil
- A metal skewer
- A marker pen
1) Prepare your branches. Depending on how dedicated a crafter you are – and how far you want to take this Thanksgiving tradition – you may want to gather your branches from scratch. Getting your housemates or the kids together for a chilly weekend ramble, collecting large broken twigs as you go might sound like your idea of fun – in which case, dry them out thoroughly before laying them out on discarded newspaper broadsheets – ideally outside. Gather at the stems and secure tightly in a bunch with wire / string. Spray-paint them all over in gold, silver or white, depending on your decor. Leave to dry. (For me, with just one day to prepare for the main event which had to include a mammoth food shop and constructing a crudité turkey from scratch, I slipped off to our local Hildreth Street Market in Balham where a very friendly man sold me a huge bunch, ready-painted and tied for £7. Job done, thank you very much. Your local florist may well do just the thing.)
2) Create a sturdy base for your branches. Holding the branches up steadily in the centre of the vase, poor in your popcorn kernels so they evenly distribute around all sides of the branch stems. You want the vase to be at least half to two-thirds full so the whole tree is really steady and in no danger of toppling over (especially crucial if you plan on making it the dining table centrepiece). My vase was large – 24cm x 10cm – and with the largest branches 1.5m high, 1.5Kg popcorn was enough, but always over-estimate (you can make popcorn with the leftovers).
3) Create your leaf template. Google a few typical autumn leaf templates to get some ideas, or again turn to Pinterest – I sketched a simple maple leaf outline, 9cm x 9cm plus 2cm of thick stem. You could even do several different types of leaf (rarely found on an actual tree, but let’s use our imaginations here). Draw and cut a template in all the colours of card you plan to use.
4) Cut out all your leaves. Pile a few layers of card together (however many your scissors will readily cut through together). Steadily holding your template on the top layer, carefully cut around your leaf. This will give you 3-4 leaves at a time and will save you acres of time.
5) Pierce your leaves. In the top corner of each leaf, use your scissors tip to make a tiny hole, then push through the skewer to enlarge the hole carefully, without ripping the card. Test the hole size, making sure it’s big enough to hang on your twig branches. (to save time, yes you can just hole-punch them).
6) Thanksgiving time. Arrange your coloured leaves in a careless pile at the base of the tree as if freshly fallen (or, neat freaks, tidily in a small dish), with a pen. Start off the proceedings with a few special thanks of your own. Hang. Admire. Grab a glass of punch, toast and be thankful.
A few final handy tips:
- Buy your birch branches pre-prepared if you can find them locally and cheaply. It’ll save huge hassle and look just as impressive.
- Always over-estimate your popcorn quantities. You’ve got to make sure your branches are super steady and you can always make popcorn with any leftovers – or even have a go at making these for more Thanksgiving prettiness.
- Remember to make your leaves big enough to write lengthy thank you’s on (some people do go on a bit)
- Don’t bother to draw out all your leaves – it’ll take forever. Once you have a card template cut, stack together several layers of card to cut 3-4 leaves out freehand, around the template, at the same time. Or else wrangle any nearby small children to help (with any necessary scissor-supervision).
- Keep the tree up all year round – as a regular reminder that life is pretty amazing really. You could even add more leaves as the year goes on whenever something awesome happens.