Christmas… for the birds

Nothing says pampering like an early morning dip in the hot tub, and we were taking advantage of a lazy day, basking in the bubbling water and the glow of a successful Thanksgiving dinner the night before.

Conversation began to drift towards Christmas, and that’s when he said it… “We should do something completely different this year!” My mind racing, what could he be thinking, changing our sacred traditions of comfort and joy?! I asked him very carefully, “Just what did you have in mind?”

Jesse the pupOver the years, decorating our tree with happy-meal toys and gold-painted macaroni ornaments lovingly made by little hands has been an important ritual in our family. The kids are now grown, but we have a new toddler underfoot. Jessie is a 1-year old Golden Retriever full of exuberance and curiosity. A tree covered in soft toys and potentially yummy treats would never survive, I began to realize.

That’s how we came to the decision to put this year’s tree on the deck directly outside the picture window of our living room. The tree we picked out is enormous, filling the entire window. I busily got online and looked up bird in the treerecipes for making birdseed and suet ornaments while he strung up colorful lights.

Suet is an interesting thing. I started out with a bag of fatty beef scraps from the local meat market, and paying close heed to the on-line admonishment to avoid inviting company over on the day of the process, decided I would render (melt) the fat in a crock-pot outside on the deck. Straining the mess through cheesecloth was an olfactory experience I don’t wish to repeat any time soon, but with our noses pinched shut we soldiered on, allowing the fat to solidify and then repeating the process a second time the next morning.


We dipped big pine cones we had collected in the liquid fat, and sprinkled birdseed Christmas for the birdslike sugar. We made suet and birdseed “muffins”.  Holly leaves and berries were tied on with twine. It felt like miles of popped corn was strung with cranberries on thick thread. The tree was decorated and beautiful in a rustic way, and the little chickadees outside were immediately impressed with the bounty.

The next day, however, we noticed long strands of popcorn and cranberries hanging loose on the tree, and one strand of the colored lights were unlit. Upon closer inspection, the bushy tail of a grey squirrel betrayed its presence in the tree’s boughs. Startled when I opened the deck door, the squirrel took off, trailing a length of popcorn behind it as it scampered up a nearby oak tree.

Squirrels and popcorn

There may be more repairs to garland and electrical wires necessary before the end of the holiday season, but in the meantime, we realize that we haven’t lost a tradition, but have only tweaked it a bit to suit the circumstances. The stories that will be told around the dinner table will be the stuff of family legend for years to come.

What are your favorite holiday traditions? Comment & tell us below!