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Thank You Note Etiquette: DIY Marbled Handmade Cards to Express Your Gratitude

Thank You Note Etiquette: DIY Marbled Handmade Cards to Express Your Gratitude

thank you card
Printable thank you cards are always at hand | Image courtesy Etsy seller DesignYourLove

The art of the thank you note. Always appreciated but so frequently forgotten. Saying a sincere thanks can absolutely make someone’s day, so why do the ones I send often feel so obligatory, especially around birthdays and the crunch of the holiday season?

I’ve been guilty, more often than I would like, of sending out late or lackluster letters that don’t truly capture how grateful I am for the sweet generosity someone sent my way. It’s never out of a lack of true appreciation, I just get so caught up in the return to regular life post-holiday that it slips my mind. And, when I do remember, it becomes more important just to get them out than to make them meaningful.

But, after inspiring the joy of giving in my favorite littles ones recently, I intend to start doing things differently. I’ve resolved to start writing timely and expressive thank you notes. My resolution may be a little late, since it’s already well into March, but my thank you notes sure won’t be. Join me in making 2017 a year of sincere gratitude. Here are my tips and tricks to help you craft meaningful and memorable thank you notes that are gifts for your favorite gifters, in and of themselves.

The Medium Makes a Difference

floral note card
Flowers show love, even in print | Image courtesy Etsy seller GoldLeafDesignandCo

Stationery has the power to say a lot without a single word; it can make all the difference when it comes to thank you notes. So, before the pen even meets the paper, it’s important to decide just which pen and which paper to pick. Personally, I think we should all keep a few sets of notecards and stationery on hand for various occasions, everything from simple blank cards that can be dressed up on a creative whim, casual all-purpose thank you notes, and personalized formal stationery. I’m known for stocking up on every cute or whimsical note card I lay my eyes on, far more than I may actually need to stash away. But the beauty of it is, I’m always able to find the perfect thank you seemingly designed just for any friend or family member.

Make sure to pick your paper according to the occasion at hand. A formal affair, like a wedding or black-tie bash, requires a formal thank you written on high-quality stationery. Steer clear of gel pens and colorful markers here, instead opting for the elegance of a black ink fountain pen. And script beats print letters in this case; taking time to craft each word with your best penmanship will imbue your note with a true sense of your heartfelt thanks.

Casual cards of gratitude have less particular parameters, so this is where I say to get creative. For birthdays, or if a friend treats you to lunch or flowers, simple stationery can do the trick. Just this past week, a good friend left me homemade chicken soup and sweet strawberry sorbet as I battled the flu, and my floral, but not too fancy, cards from a local gift shop were perfect!

DIY Marbled Cards and Envelopes

Simple marbled card DIY supplies
Simple marbled card DIY supplies

My one rule when it comes to paper is to steer clear of generic grocery store thank you cards. Instead, a better option that shows heartfelt appreciation is to make some yourself. With just a few household items, and a little ingenuity, I played around with this dip-dye card idea. Here’s how I did it—and the gorgeous colored marble results:

The Supplies:

  • Blank cards and envelopes
  • Watercolor paint
  • A mixing bowl used for crafts
  • Paper towels

watercolor note cards The How-To:

  1. Mix the watercolor paint in a bowl, leaving enough room to dip your paper. I tested the strength of the color on scratch paper first before dipping my cards right in.
  2. Dip your cards and envelopes into the bowl. Experiment with different angles or try layering the color in some areas. Get creative. Really, anything goes!
  3. Blot the cards on the paper towels to drain any excess water and then hang them someplace safe to dry.

That’s it! So easy, right? If your cards curve a bit, just stick them under a few books once they’ve dried completely to flatten them out. Then write, seal, send, repeat!

Find the “Write” Words

Having mastered your materials and made up your mind on the proper medium, it’s time to write! But what exactly do you say beyond the simple words of thank you? While there’s no steadfast set of rules, it can be helpful to have a general outline of how to compose a thank

colored pens
Colorful pens inspire colorful words | Image courtesy Etsy seller PapergeekCo

you, so you can worry less about how to express your love, and more about the actual expression of it.

  1. Start with a greeting: Your initial introduction should reflect both the nature of the relationship with the person you’re writing to and the formality of the occasion at hand. Opening with “Dear So-&-So” is always a safe and classy start, but other options may feel more personal and appropriate. For casual letters, I sometimes begin with “Salutations!” or “To My Dear Friend.” However you say hello, always finish your address with a comma!
  2. Say thank you: Easy enough, right? Express your thanks right after you open your letter. Thank you notes are supposed to be short and sweet, and by leading with an expression of gratitude, you make the intention of your letter crystal clear, and give your appreciation the spotlight.
  3. Identify the gift: Make sure to be specific and thank the giver by naming the gift. It shows a greater sense of gratitude and personal interest in the exchange. If it’s a monetary gift, let the individual know what you plan to do with the funds, if appropriate.
  4. Reiterate your thanks before you finish: You don’t have to write long, drawn out thank you notes. A few short sentences that finish with a final thank you are all it takes.
  5. Sign, seal, and deliver: Last but not least, make sure to sign your note before sending it out. You can close with a traditional “Sincerely,” but I tend to choose a more meaningful closing statements, like:
  • Kind regards,
  • Best wishes,
  • All my love,
  • With gratitude,
  • Warmly,

The Fine Print of Formalities

No doubt the biggest issue with thank you note etiquette is the timeliness in which they’re mailed out. Punctuality is imperative, but perhaps the most difficult part to master. In general, a week is the longest you should wait before sending out your cards, but the sooner the better. I aim to write them within 24 hours, when the details of the exchange are fresh in my mind. If I wait any longer, especially around big holidays, I tend to forget who gave what.

you rock gift set
A thank you made from paper, rock, and scissors | Image courtesy Etsy seller AirFriend

Sometimes, I hardly know if a thank you card is a must or a thoughtful courtesy. Do I necessarily need to pull out my trusty pen and paper, or can a quick call suffice? While there’s no clear-cut answer, I always try to err on the side of sending a written note when in doubt. A note of thanks is always appreciated regardless of circumstances, so if you have the time to write one, I say go for it!

When all is said and done—and written out on gorgeous stationery—the most important piece of advice I can offer about writing thank you notes is that any way you express gratitude is the right way. Maybe it’s with an inspirational candle, or a “gem” of a gift in return, or even a piece of art. It can be a challenge to get those envelopes in the mail, but a much more enjoyable project if you keep that in mind and bring in a little creativity to process.

Sending a card to a friend, especially a thank you note, is a gesture that strengthens relationships and inspires deeper bonds. We all want to know we are seen, heard, and that someone is grateful to, and for, us. All it takes is five minutes, pen, and some paper. Here’s to making 2017 your most grateful year yet!

The elves are always hard at work to make gift giving meaningful for everyone. Like us on Facebook for more gift inspirations, or follow us on Twitter @Elfster or Instagram @Elfstergram.

DIY Minecraft Party Ideas for an Interactive Gamer Boy’s Birthday Without Screens

DIY Minecraft Party Ideas for an Interactive Gamer Boy’s Birthday Without Screens

diy minecraft party crafts
The Minecraft craze makes for explosive parties | Image courtesy flick’r user nottinghamgamecity

The surprise of creating a pickaxe, or mining your first ore. Figuring out how to light your first fire. Discovering the meat explosion that comes from a pig. Realizing how to swim—and learning never to dig straight down. These are my favorite memories of Minecraft when I started playing the beta version back in 2010.

Enderman didn’t exist back then, we didn’t have guidebooks on how to build everything, and we had to learn how to make our own torches all by ourselves. We built our own servers and played on safe mode because we died from the creepers every single night. Oh, how times have changed.

Since then, the game has become a toy, party, and tech phenomenon beyond my wildest dreams. When I was asked to help plan a Minecraft birthday party for the kids I babysit, I jumped at the chance. Together, we came up with party decor, treats, and activities to turn their home into a mini gamer boys’ paradise.

Creating the World of Minecraft in Your Living Room

Minecraft balloons
DIY Minecraft balloons | Image courtesy Etsy seller KTsCreations

9-year-olds become immersed in a video game world because of the details, so tap into this tendency with your party decor. You can spend a fortune on premade Minecraft decorations, but the homemade versions are even more impressive (and cheaper).

From hanging purple streamers in a doorway to mark the Nether Portal, to adding white electrical tape squares on your windows to imitate the look of glass blocks, it’s easy to discover the “perfect seed” at home.

Looking for an easy DIY that will help tie all your decorations together? I had a lot of fun crafting Minecraft-style balloons for my little friends to ooh and aah over. I picked up about 20 latex balloons in common Minecraft colors, including lots of green, from the party store and had them filled with helium. Using some of the acrylic paint I had leftover from our Valentine’s day craft party, I went to town with a foam brush painting creeper, ghost, and pig faces—along with a healthy sprinkling of red TNT balloons. Create any other mobs that strike your fancy and allow the paint to dry before tying them around the party space. The kids will have so much fun with the creeper-face balloons, it’s so worth your time!

Restoring Little Gamers’ Health (and Hunger)

Along with some basic party food classics like pizza, chips, and candies, you’ll want to add in some themed elements as well. Set the table with a grass-green tablecloth, black square plates, and splurge on some pixelated napkins to tie everything together.

Take care of those hit points by setting out red stone strawberries or lava punch. While the mini-Steves are working on their party craft, you can offer them a sweet snack that’s easy, inexpensive, delicious, and impressively on-theme. The birthday boy might have to take off his creeper mask, but these grass block-inspired Rice Krispie treats are worth at least 4 hearts.

mine craft party table
(Mine)crafting kids | Image courtesy flick’r user nottinghamgamecity

The Ingredients:

  • 3 Tbl butter
  • ⅔ cup chocolate nut spread
  • 10oz mini marshmallows
  • 5 cups Rice Krispies cereal
  • A square cookie cutter
  • Green frosting

The Recipe:

  1. Grease a 9×13” pan with baking spray.
  2. Melt the butter in a large pan and add in marshmallows, stirring until they have melted completely.
  3. Add in your chocolate nut spread (or leave out to allow for nut allergies—your blocks will just be cream colored instead of brown). Stir until well incorporated.
  4. Fold in 5 cups of Rice Krispies. This step is sticky and can be tough, but be sure to mix well!
  5. Plop your cereal mixture into the greased pan and top with a sheet of wax paper. Press on the paper to make the treats flat in an even layer.
  6. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  7. Remove your treats from the pan and use the cookie cutter to create perfect squares. If you have a smaller group of kiddos (or more batches of treats ready to go), you can double stack these squares to make more of a cube shape. Squish the touching edges together to make the treat look like one piece.
  8. Frost the top of each brick with bright green frosting, and your dirt and grass blocks are complete!

Interactive Activities to Bring Minecraft to Life for Your Littles

pin the tnt on the creeper
Pin the TNT on the Creeper | Image courtesy Etsy seller CraftySistersFinds

As exciting as digital gameplay can be, it’s really fun to bring the Minecraft world off the screen with interactive play. Within the world of Minecraft birthday party ideas, you have about a million options, from stenciling creeper faces onto green t-shirts for a take-home party favor to playing “Pin the TNT on the Creeper” with a handmade felt creeper face. You could even play minecraft bingo and give away a foam diamond sword as your grand prize or make creeper pinatas that the kids can whack at with a faux wood ax.

It’s up to you what direction you’d like to go, but when the kids have gotten some energy out, try this (Mine)craft to settle the energy back down. All you’ll need is a huge bucket of mixed color fuse beads (and maybe extra bags of green and black), a square peg board for each party guest, an iron, and some wax paper. Set up the crafting table with some printed pictures from the game and a mix of sample patterns to help out younger kids, then let them go crazy picking out beads and making their Minecraft designs.

When their Minecraft masterpiece is finished, have them bring the peg board over to the kitchen counter where you (the adult) will be ready with a hot, dry iron and wax paper. Place the entire pegboard on a kitchen towel and top with a sheet of wax paper, then iron over the paper for 10-20 seconds, using even pressure and circular motions. When the beads are fused, you can peel the paper away from the pegboard, taking all the beads with it. Hand the pegboard back to the partygoer and let them make another design while you wait for this one to cool for ten minutes or so. And make sure to write the initials of the artist on one side of the design in permanent marker so you don’t get everyone’s creepers mixed up!

minecraft beads
DIY fuse bead party favors | Image courtesy Etsy seller CreationsByMakana

Minecraft is the sandbox game of the future, and has been popular among boys, girls, and adults alike. I’m happy to support screen time with kids when it involves creativity, problem solving, and an immense level of discovery at every turn—which is exactly what Minecraft does. But, it can be even more fun to get away from the screen for an afternoon of interactive birthday party fun.

If your child is as obsessed with Minecraft as my young friends are, they’ll go crazy for a party themed around the most addictive video game since Tetris. Welcome to the future of gaming—and a really awesome birthday party.

Looking for gift ideas for the birthday boy now that the party is all planned? The elves have made a handy gift guide that’ll be perfect for any little gamer. Be sure to share your Minecraft party success with us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram. We can’t wait to see your (Mine)craftiness!

Crafty Homemade Gifts That Toddlers Can Make to Playfully Inspire the Joy of Giving

Crafty Homemade Gifts That Toddlers Can Make to Playfully Inspire the Joy of Giving

finger paints
With a little paint, kids make meaningful gifts | Image courtesy flick’r user Valentina Yachichurova

My little cousins, 2 and 4, are preschool crafting fiends. They come home with pages upon pages of pasted art, funky scribbles, and other staples of the toddlers’ craft repertoire. When I enter their kitchen, I’m met with a fridge door covered in construction paper, cotton balls, tinted macaroni, and what I can only imagine was a glitter bomb.

Last weekend, I was at their house on a mission to spend the afternoon crafting gifts that the little ones could give to their mom for her birthday. I was determined to create something surprising, unique, and useful that my aunt would genuinely appreciate—and that had absolutely no construction paper or school glue in sight.

Little Keith was so excited when I entered with my Mary Poppins-style bag of supplies that he immediately went to the pantry to grab the plastic “crafting table cloth” to spread out over the kitchen floor. Then we all sat down together and got to work.

Household Toys Make a Scarf Mom Will Actually Wear

As a two year old, little Keith is still working on his fine motor skills, and not making an incredible mess when using craft paint, so this DIY infinity scarf idea plays directly to his strengths.

diy handpainted scarf
Easily DIY an abstract infinity scarf | Image courtesy Etsy seller SewnCraftily

I came prepared with a 6×3 foot rectangle of lightweight jersey fabric that I picked up at the craft store around the corner and asked Keith to bring some car toys to our “studio.” While he was busy collecting his favorites, I taped the neutral-colored fabric flat on the covered floor using packing tape, and added “stripes” with the tape every four inches or so across its surface before filling some paper plates with a thin layer of paint. Keith rushed back with a couple of large plastic cars and some smaller metal racers, and we were soon rolling their wheels in the paint and making car tracks on the fabric.

I chose the paint colors carefully, in tones I knew my aunt loved to wear. If we were to make this craft again, I’d get even more creative with lego blocks and other toys to stamp shapes on the fabric too. When we liked the way our abstract design looked, we moved on to craft number two and let this one dry. I threw the toys into a sink full of warm, soapy water immediately after we finished and gave them a good wash with my hands to remove all the paint.

It’s best to leave your scarf to dry for a few hours so the fabric paint can completely harden. Then you can remove the tape and heat-set the paint using the instructions on the back of the bottle. Back home, I also sewed the short edges of the rectangle together to form the classic infinity scarf loop. You could also use fabric glue for this step if sewing isn’t your forte. The result is a gorgeous abstract infinity scarf that looks like something you paid for on etsy—not a fridge-cluttering toddler craft.

Air-Dry Clay Gets a Sophisticated Makeover

clay bowl
Air-dry clay makes excellent small dishes | Image courtesy Etsy seller TheFloweringMaple

It may be difficult to find a use for a clay handprint, no matter how adorable they are. But, with a little bit of experimentation, I’ve found a new way to revitalize the old medium of air-dry clay to make a ring dish that my aunt will really enjoy using.

Let the kids knead and play with the clay until it’s soft. Then, using a rolling pin to flatten it out to a somewhat even 5mm thick, use various stamps and other textured objects to let them imprint the clay with their favorite designs or patterns. Draw lines with the end of a toothpick, drive over the clay with a tractor toy, or use fingertips to create a polka dot pattern. This process is super forgiving, and you can easily try again if you don’t end up loving the results the first time.

When you’re happy with your patterns, place a small bowl upside down onto the clay and use a butter knife to cut around its edge, creating a circle. Let the kids help you press your clay circle gently into the bottom of the now right side up bowl and let dry overnight. In the morning, carefully lift your clay dish away from the bowl. If it’s still a bit wet on the bottom, turn your dish upside down on a drying rack for another few hours. Paint the edges of the bowl with gold nail polish or acrylic paint for a boho-chic vibe and your DIY ring dish is complete.

Personalized Towels Make the Kitchen a Little Brighter

Kids have been making their mark on dish towels for centuries. They’re inherently messy, and there’s no end to the dirty kitchen towels that a household can go through in a week. Any mom can use more clean towels! Hence, this craft idea was born:

handpainted towels
Hand-painted dish towels are surprisingly easy to DIY | Image courtesy Etsy seller LoftStudios

The Supplies:

  • Contact paper
  • Fabric paint in bright colors
  • Unsharpened round pencils
  • A pack of flour sack towels

The How-To:

  1. Get set up. Tape your towel flat onto your work surface in one layer, taking care as this paint will bleed through.
  2. Create your shapes. Trace seasonal outlines on the contact paper. Hearts are a great choice this time of year, as are flowers. If you don’t want to draw your own outlines, have the kids trace medium-sized cookie cutters onto the contact paper using a marker. Your outlines should be about 3” in diameter.
  3. Cut out the shapes. Then, position the sticky side of the contact paper on the towel’s surface wherever you’d like. For ours, we used two shapes apiece and positioned them near the bottom short edge so they would show when the towel was hung on the oven door.
  4. Paint away. Place each color of fabric paint in its own paper bowl or plate and use either end of the round pencil to stamp little dots of color around the edges of your contact paper shapes. Keep going until the dots spread out as far as you like, making sure the edges of the contact paper are covered.
  5. Let the paint dry. Then, remove your contact paper shapes to reveal the crisp white silhouette underneath! Heat set your towels the next day by throwing them in the dryer according to your paint bottle instructions and your colorful gifts will be ready for gifting!

The Art of Helping Kids Experience the Joy of Giving

kids painting
Involve your kids in the creative process | Image courtesy flick’r user Rain 0975

Crafting with kids can be alot fun. They’re actively discovering how the world works, and their entire bodies are engaged in the activity before them. I love spending time being creative with my little cousins because I know they’re learning a lot while having a memorably crafty afternoon. If you come prepared with the right structure in place, and a patient mindset, you’ll find that crafting with kids is way more than a mess—it’s creative inspiration.

Beyond just the joy of crafting, I loved watching Keith and Matthew give their handmade items to their mom at her birthday celebration. They were so proud of their creations, and couldn’t wait to see the smile on her face when she opened their gifts. Because they were directly involved with the process (and with keeping the secret—always the hardest part) they seemed much more excited about giving than I’ve ever seen. Handmade gifts, especially when crafted by little hands, can bring joy to the entire family.

If you’re looking for more ways to get your little ones involved in the gift giving process, why not let them help choose one of the gifts on our gift guides for the next holiday? The elves are hard at work to make gift giving meaningful for everyone. Like us on Facebook for more gift giving ideas, or follow us on Twitter @Elfster or Instagram @Elfstergram.

Goodbye Winter Blues: 5 Mood Boosting DIY Projects for a Weekend of Self-Care

Goodbye Winter Blues: 5 Mood Boosting DIY Projects for a Weekend of Self-Care

self-care kit
Gift yourself with self care | Image courtesy Etsy seller LittleFlowerSoapCo

Last weekend, I had all of Saturday and Sunday to myself. My partner was traveling and I was, unusually, caught up with work for the week. I should have been thrilled with two largely empty days sprawling out before me. Instead, I felt anxious.

We moved a little over a year ago and, working from home, I still didn’t have much of a social circle in our new hometown. For an extrovert like me, that can make a weekend alone, well, pretty lonely.

I could try to distract myself with work and social media, but I knew that wouldn’t be fulfilling. I wanted to sink my teeth into my newfound weekend freedom. So I decided to ban work and technology and ease into a true pampering session for my mind, body, and soul. I had been pinning project inspirations and recipes for months now, and this weekend seemed like the perfect opportunity to roll up my sleeves and dive into some self-care DIY.

Bust Anxiety with an Essential Oil Rollerball

I’ve had bottles of essential oils sitting in my craft drawer for months. I use them in cleaning products and in a diffuser while we sleep, but I hadn’t tried them for mood regulation. After exploring online about the benefits of each oil, I created a soothing blend—something predominantly bright and cheerful, but with calming effects.

essential oils kit
Essential oils for custom anti-anxiety blends | Image courtesy Etsy seller ArOmis

I also wanted something I wouldn’t be embarrassed to smell like since I decided to use a glass rollerball applicator. Glass is a must when using essential oils, as they can make plastic leech. Use a pipette or funnel to add your oil blend to the bottle, then secure the rollerball top. Apply to the temples, neck, wrists, and any other pressure points on the body for anxiety relief. This ended up being my favorite uplifting blend:

  • 15 drops sweet orange oil
  • 15 drops ylang ylang oil
  • 10 drops sandalwood oil
  • Carrier oil (jojoba or sweet almond)

After you add the essential oil drops to your rollerball, fill the remainder with a carrier oil to dilute. I found this so effective that I’ve been using this blend in my oil diffuser in the evenings to help boost spirits after a long day, but feel free to customize your own combination of scents, and play with other calming and uplifting oils like lavender or bergamot.

Curb Chocolate Cravings with No Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Bites

Did you know dark chocolate and oatmeal can actually help boost your mood? That’s just one reason I love this easy recipe. The other is that it’s a lot healthier than waffles and cookies. On Saturdays, I’ve been known to undo an entire week of healthy eating. To help me kick this habit, I like to create healthy snacks that satiate my sweet tooth without blowing my caloric intake. These no-bake bites are a staple around here!

hot cocoa
100% cocoa is a mood-boosting snack | Image courtesy Target.com

The Ingredients:

  • 2 cups old-fashioned oats (raw)
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 3 tbls 100% cocoa powder
  • ½ cup honey
  • ½ cup chocolate chips
  • ½ cup dried cherries
  • ½ cup toasted sesame seeds

The Recipe:

  1. Combine the first four ingredients until a thick dough forms.
  2. Fold in the remaining ingredients and refrigerate dough for fifteen minutes.
  3. Once chilled, use your hands to roll the dough into tablespoon sized balls.
  4. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week, or in the freezer for even longer!

Create a Hygge Emergency Kit

Hygge is a hot trend right now, and it’s not difficult to understand why it’s getting so much hype. It’s a long-standing Danish tradition referring to the importance of creating and enjoying a warm and cozy atmosphere. We all live multifaceted lives and, while it might be nice, we can’t have a gigantic bed and an oversized velvet sofa and candles burning at all times. Instead, it’s suggested to create a hygge emergency kit for the particularly stressful days when you want to lift your spirits the Danish way.

hygge kit poster
The Danish know the importance of true comfort | Image courtesy Etsy seller HomeandGloryLtd

I’d wanted to put my own kit together for months, but it just kept getting pushed lower and lower on my to-do list, so my self-care weekend was the perfect opportunity.

Here’s what’s suggested for a traditional hygge kit:

  • An attractive basket for storing your goodies
  • A cozy blanket or slipper socks to evoke feelings of softness and warmth
  • A warm drink that’s easy to prepare
  • A book that can be read for just minutes at a time, or a book you’ve read before
  • An activity or hobby that’s easy and stress-relieving
  • Unscented candles with matches

It wasn’t difficult for me to create my own hygge kit—I already owned everything I needed. I just gathered up an old basket, chenille socks infused with argan oil, hot cocoa packets, the book 365 Days of Wonder, an adult coloring book, and some unscented pillar candles.

Now, I have my hygge basket ready for a spare half hour during the workday when I feel the need to hit the reset button. I keep it out, because the basket looks lovely, but also because it’s a great reminder for me to practice self-care.

Try Out Some Positivity Journaling

I have a master’s degree in counseling, so I’m well-aware of how wonderful journaling is for wellness. Does that mean I’m perfect and routine with it? Of course not! But, I’ve been meaning to set aside some time each weekend to journal and reflect. I never got around to it and I think I know why—it seems too abstract.

I needed some prompts to help me get started with my journaling goal and, luckily, the internet is full of them. It took a simple “positivity journaling prompts” search on Pinterest to find hundreds of mood-boosting, uplifting ideas to get me going. I had planned to write for fifteen minutes, but I emerged an hour later feeling lighter, more clear-headed, and inspired.

Pamper and Energize with a DIY Body Scrub

To me, after a day of DIYs and self-care, there’s nothing better than a wonderful show. After all, I had taken care of my tummy, mind, and spirit. Now it was time to refresh the body!

coffee body scrub
You’ll be tempted to eat this luscious scrub | Image courtesy Etsy seller HippeeCraft

In a mason jar, I combined the following ingredients, which are proven to be great for both the skin and the mind. Apply in the shower using a washcloth and circular motions to reveal smoother, more radiant skin—and a better mood.

The Ingredients:

  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup finely ground coffee
  • ⅓ cup olive oil
  • ⅓ cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1 tsp chocolate, vanilla, or almond extract for fragrance (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, mixing thoroughly. Transfer to a mason jar and store in the shower, tightly sealed. The scrub is at its ideal consistency once the coconut oil has had a chance to solidify.

After my shower, I was glowing. Seriously. And I don’t think it was just the body scrub. Taking time to treat yourself on the weekends definitely has its benefits. I’m so glad I didn’t just fall down the Netflix black hole, but instead took time to invest in my own well-being.

Elfster encourages you to treat yourself with our thoughtful gift guides. Connect with us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram for more self-care inspirations.

Be Our Guest! Bonjour to Imaginative Beauty and the Beast Disney Dinner Party Ideas

Be Our Guest! Bonjour to Imaginative Beauty and the Beast Disney Dinner Party Ideas

Be Our Guest sign
Welcome your guests in style | Image courtesy Etsy seller MOJAgraphics

When I heard the opening arpeggio of that familiar piano tune and saw the dark, wistful castle again for the first time in years while sitting in a silent movie theater, I got tears in my eyes. The sheer beauty of the French Baroque styling, the gorgeous costumes, and, of course, the talents of Emma Watson make Disney’s upcoming live-action retelling of Beauty and the Beast my “can’t miss” movie of the season. I’m so excited I’ve watched the trailer online about a hundred times. In a row.

I’m not the only one of my friends who still obsesses over each new Disney release, animated or not, even as an adult. So, I decided to throw a dinner party for my fellow Disneyholics to celebrate the newest film. I took memories from the Be Our Guest restaurant at Walt Disney World (which I’ve treasured in dreams since my sixth birthday), as well as inspiration from the original and new films, creating a soiree to rival any Disney celebration, fictional or not.

So, come along—we’ve got a lot to do!

Say “Bonjour” at the Door

The best part about dining at Disney is that your experience begins immediately. From the moment you enter the restaurant’s waiting area, you’re immersed in a whole new world. The Be Our Guest lobby welcomes you with life-sized suits of armor, baroque decor, and waitstaff who give a cheerful, “Bonjour!” To emulate this warm welcome in your own home, create a sign for your front door to greet guests as soon as they arrive.

craft supplies
A crafty way to welcome guests | Image courtesy Etsy seller UrbanOasisDecor

The Materials:

  • Blank chalkboard sign
  • Regular chalk
  • Chalk marker
  • Paintbrush

The How-To:

  1. Search online for a calligraphy print of “Be Our Guest” or “Bonjour” that you particularly love. Print out the image scaled to the size of your chalkboard using regular printer paper and black ink.
  2. Turn your image over and “color” the entire blank side with regular chalk in a thick layer, especially where you can see lettering. Tap the paper to shake off some of the excess then tape it, image side up, onto your chalkboard surface.
  3. Using your unopened chalk marker, trace the outline of the lettering by pressing hard with the marker’s end against the paper. This makes an imprint in chalk dust on your chalkboard. Don’t worry about smudging with your hands as you trace—this is easily fixed later.
  4. Remove your paper image to reveal the chalk dust imprint beneath. Trace and fill in the lettering directly on the chalkboard surface with your chalk marker.
  5. Use a paintbrush to lightly brush away any chalk dust smudges (or even use a Q-Tip dipped in water if you need to make detailed adjustments). The chalk marker is semi-permanent so won’t remove nearly as easily as the regular chalk dust.

You can get as crafty as you like here. Use hot glue to attach a red silk rose to your sign, or decorate with doodles of a chipped teacup and a hand mirror. You can hang your sign from bright gold ribbon, or lean it next to a warm, flickering lantern.

Your guests can be also be welcomed by their old friends Lumiere, Mrs. Potts, and the whole gang with a simple display. Arrange a candelabra, a china teapot, an old-timey feather duster, and a clock on your foyer table atop a rich-toned table runner to remind your guests of who, and what, met Belle when she first entered that enchanted castle.

Craft a Table Worthy of an Enchanted Castle

ornate gold mirror
A Belle-inspired centerpiece | Image courtesy Etsy seller SecretWindowMirrors

With a little bit of creativity, we can recreate some of the golden Baroque decor from the Beast’s ballroom in our own homes. You can design a stunning centerpiece with a little bit of DIY magic to set the stage for your culinary cabaret.

Using Belle’s hand mirror as inspiration, find a large, ornate mirror at a local thrift store and spray paint the frame gold. Once dry, center it on your table and arrange vintage-looking books and flickering candles on the mirror’s surface.

To create your own enchanted rose for the center, buy a bell jar, often found at dollar stores, and secure the stem end of a red silk rose upright on the base with a generous dollop of hot glue. Scatter spare petals around the stem to help mask your “enchantment.”

To further infuse your table with an elegant nod to classic icons of the film, pin silk roses to printed place cards for each table setting. If your dinner party guests enjoy floral fashion, you can go even further. Secure each rose to a hair pin or clip before sliding the card into place. Your guests will bring home a party favor they can wear long after the candles have died down.

The Disney Effect: Little Details Matter

DIY snow craft
Image courtesy flick’r user David Galbraith

If you’ve ever been to a Disney park, you know what it’s like to step into the world of yesterday, tomorrow—and fantasy. You’re surrounded by (nearly) hidden details that bring Disney to life right before your eyes. You can imbue your own party with sweet, memorable details as well.

If you want your guests to reminisce on the soup-slurping and cozy wintertime-reading-by-the-fire scenes, you’ll want them to see something that wasn’t there before. I’m talking about changing the weather for your dinner party, folks.

Create a gently falling snow effect by stringing cotton balls of different sizes on fishing line and hanging from the eve outside your dining room windows. Finish setting the perfect ambiance by also playing the score from Beauty and the Beast quietly in the background.

Send Guests Home with Fairy Tale Memories

Before your guests retire home to their own private West Wing bedrooms, have them sign a guestbook, titled “Be Our Guest,” of course.

enchanted rose print
An enchanted rose, the ultimate symbol of love from Beauty and the Beast | Image courtesy Etsy seller naturapicta

You can craft your own by laying open a vintage-looking scrapbook album and prompting your guests at the top of the page to let you know their favorite moment of the evening. Fill the remaining pages later with smiling memories of the evening (i.e. pictures), and your personal souvenir is complete. This will be a dinner party to remember, and it’s nice to have a lasting memento of the occasion to look back on.

Hosting dinner parties brings so much joy to your friends, especially when they’re themed around the (arguably) best Disney movie of all time. I consider hosting to be a gift I give my loved ones, wrapped up in beautiful memories, soundtrack singalongs, and happy laughter. It’s a chance for us all to get dressed up and pretend we really do live in Belle’s fairy tale world. That’s an experience that I’ll joyfully create again and again.

If you’re looking for more dinner party ideas to bring imagination to your social circle, check out what the elves have been up to over on Pinterest. We’re constantly dreaming up new ideas for party fun, so be sure to share your dinner party pics with us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram.

Snow Day Winter Crafts and Games: “Cool” Boredom Busters That Warm up Imaginations

Snow Day Winter Crafts and Games: “Cool” Boredom Busters That Warm up Imaginations

Puffy snow-quality coat? Check. Mittens clipped to coat? Check. But wait—where’s her hat???

girl playing with snow
Keep your littles entertained on snow days | Image courtesy flick’r user MissMessie

Getting my niece ready to play in the snow takes a full 20 minutes of hunting down winter accessories and struggling into layer after layer of warm clothing. Her excitement means she’s unable to stay still, even for us to help put her boots on. We finally get outside and have ten brief, but blissful minutes of pointing, touching, and snow throwing… and then she decides it’s time to go back in. What on earth are we going to do for the next eight hours?

Snow days are the best days on your kids’ calendars. They get to skip school, play in the cold fluff, and, best of all, stay home with you! But parents may nervously wonder how to entertain their 6-year-old for a full day without breaks. Our snowed-in craft ideas are here to help when the outdoors lose the allure.

Cold Day Outdoor Crafts

The snow outside provides its own fun for your elementary-aged child. Building snowmen, snow forts, and having snowball fights with the neighborhood kids will keep them busy (and worn out) during your time at home. But you definitely want to have some other ideas up your sleeve to keep winter boredom from setting in. These crafts keep little hands busy by taking advantage of the icy snow outside:

water balloons and squirt guns
Dig out your summer toys | Image courtesy Etsy seller SonyaDeHartDesigns

A Snowy Egg Hunt

Water balloons and food coloring are all you need to make some icy colored eggs. Squeeze one or two drops of food coloring inside each water balloon and fill with water, tying off as usual. Try to keep the balloons rather small so they have time to freeze completely overnight. Let the kids help you find the perfect place in your snowy yard to leave the water balloons—be sure it’s in the shade during the day—and lay them out on top of the snow. Then just peel the plastic balloons away the next morning.

Your kids will love how the colorful “glass” eggs look against the white backdrop outside, and will be even more excited when you host an egg hunt by hiding them around the yard in increasingly difficult spots. Easter comes early this year!

An Icy Yard Painting

This craft uses another summer staple: squirt guns! Fill with water and food coloring and send the kids outside to paint the snowy yard with bright colors. If your kids are anything like the little ones in my family, they’ll squeal with delight for about five minutes before they “don’t know what to draw.” Here’s where you come prepared with a creative race idea.

frozen bubbles
Frozen bouncy bubbles | Image courtesy flick’r user Heather

Kids will love this scavenger hunt style activity. Print a list of drawing ideas for each participant (animals, words, and 3D snow sculpture prompts) and start the timer. The first to complete their list wins—and you get to sit back and watch the fun play out on your back lawn.

Frozen Bubbles

If you live in North Dakota, Vermont, or any of our states that experience extreme cold (0 degrees or below), you’ll definitely want to experiment with this wintery take on a summer craft.

Mix up a freezable bubble blend of 1 ½ cups water, ¼ cup dish soap, and 1 tsp glycerine (found in most big box stores near the bandaids). Take your bubble wand outside and create bouncy bubbles that you can even hold in your gloved hand! Wait an hour and the bubbles will have frozen solid, breaking like eggshells when touched.

Bringing Winter In

If the weather outside is frightful, your kids may feel like staying in after their initial snow-angel playtime—and we don’t blame them. Be ready for their return to shelter with a craft or two already set up for them to explore.

Homemade Snow Ice Cream

This chemistry craft brings the snow inside for your kids to enjoy. We make this recipe every year on snow days, so it’s become a special family tradition! Send your kids outside to collect a big bowl of fresh, clean snow and get ready to enjoy.

The Ingredients:

  • ½ cup whole milk
  • ½ cup cream
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ cup rock salt

The Recipe:

  1. Pour all of your ingredients (except the rock salt) into a quart size plastic bag, sealing well and pressing out most of the air.
  2. In a separate gallon size bag, pour half of your snow and the rock salt, explaining that this lowers the temperature.
  3. Set the bag of ingredients inside the gallon bag and layer in the rest of the snow, making sure the smaller bag is surrounded.
  4. Seal the gallon bag shut, wrap with a towel (to keep little hands from getting too cold), and shake for five minutes.
  5. Pull out the smaller bag and you’ll have delicious homemade ice cream!
snowflake pom poms
Pom poms are great fun indoors | Image courtesy Etsy seller RedDoorCraftworks

Indoor Snowball Fight

This is a real hit with the youngsters in my family. Open a few bags of pom poms and pile them up in the center of your play area. Then, start a “First Annual Indoor Snow War.”

Have everyone put on a dry pair of gloves (for authenticity purposes, of course). Put each kid in separate corners of the room, then yell, “SNOW!” They run to collect as many pom poms as they can carry for their stash. The scooping and throwing will commence and continue for at least an hour—especially if you get involved in a kids vs. adults snowball fight.

Crafty Snowflake Creation

By now you’re probably looking for a more quiet craft to help calm everyone down. Rather than messing with scissors and coffee filters to make snowflakes and snow angels, let your craftier kiddos bead their own snowflakes out of pipe cleaners and pony beads.

beaded snowflake
Bead your own snowflakes | Image courtesy Etsy seller SilverLiningDesigns6

I’d make a few snowflake templates ahead of time by folding three lengths of sparkly silver pipe cleaners together into an asterisk shape. The kids can slide beads onto these snowflake forms in endless combinations—made even more fun if your bead selection is sparkly and snow themed. This is a perfect craft for exploring fine motor skills—and everyone from our preschooler to our 10-year-old cousin tends to enjoy the creativity.

A fun day in the snow (or inside with the snow) will, hopefully, lead to a cozy rest time. After they’ve exhausted themselves by running around in the snow and creating snowy crafts indoors, they’ve earned a quiet afternoon beside the fire, reading winter stories or watching a wintery movie—and you’ll feel like the most accomplished and creative parent alive.

Looking for even more ways to make being snowed-in the best day ever? The elves post their newest ideas on our Facebook page—and you can find even more fun over on Instagram @Elfstergram and Twitter @Elfster.

Creative Packaging Ideas to Add Pizzazz and Personalization to Gift Cards for Teens

Creative Packaging Ideas to Add Pizzazz and Personalization to Gift Cards for Teens

gift card envelopes
Pretty gift card packaging. | Image courtesy Etsy seller PartyHappier

As a young adult not far from her teen years, I remember exactly how it feels to be gifted free stuff. Free meals, books, and hobby-related items always made for a fantastic day in my book. So, for my cousin Holly’s 16th birthday last week, I remembered that feeling and decided to give her what I most appreciated at that age: a gift card.

When you give a teen a gift card, you’re handing over a sense of freedom, and the excitement of holding the reigns. They get to be carefree and do fun things that they normally would have to ask mom and dad to fund. It’s an always-appreciated luxury for a teen who might not have much disposable income at hand. Holly’s lit-up expression is the perfect example of how well these gifts go over.

But teens also want to know they’re being seen and heard for who they are and what they’re truly interested in. With a little personalization, or creative packaging ideas, your favorite teen will be assured you love them for exactly who they are, and who you see them becoming.

Details Make a Gift Card Personal

Teen culture still seems to revolve around the mall and the movie theater, so get started by asking parents or friends which spots your teen visits most. Take a trip to the mall to get a physical gift card instead of printing one online, and be sure to do a little browsing in-store. If you notice that your teen’s favorite style is in, include a handwritten note with your card that says, “Looks like boho style is right on trend for 2017. Can’t wait to see what artsy items you pick out!” Write “Love, from Aunt X” on the front of the card in sharpie when you get home, and your teen will be sure to remember you later when they go to splurge.

gift card packaging
A green light to freedom | Image courtesy Etsy seller CGDesignStudioShop

If going to the mall isn’t possible, you can still win by printing off a gift certificate to your teen’s favorite online store. Gift cards to Etsy, Modcloth, or Amazon always seem to go over well, because teens tend to have astronomically long wish lists already made on these sites. I know Holly has been lusting after some Modcloth boots this season, so I made sure to include a picture of a popular pair on the certificate. With Amazon, you can even print a gift card with your own photo. Pick a silly one (maybe even a candid shot) to ensure smiles.

If giving a restaurant gift card, consider which places your teen goes with friends. If there’s a Chicken Express near school that they visit frequently, note that, “This is to fund those after school snack runs!” If Starbucks is a rare treat, specify, “This card is good for those weekly PSL cravings!” Your teen is still free to use the card however they wish, but they’ll know you put extra thought into their interests.

I’m always amazed when a gift card is in a specific amount perfect for what I’ve been hoping to buy. A bookstore gift card for $50 is like gifting two hardcovers, for example. A $30 gift card to Sephora might provide the two shadows your teen has had their eye on for months. Or, give movie theater cards in typical Friday night price increments, and let your teen know it’s for them to treat their bestie to the latest flick out next weekend. Getting a card in a custom amount shows that just a little more thought went into your gift—especially when you specify what the cash is for.

Get Creative with Gift Card Packaging

I knew how much Holly would appreciate her surprise Modcloth fund, but I was still stuck on how to present the gift to her at the party. I didn’t want to just hand her the piece of printer paper, after all! So after doing some Pinterest sleuthing, I picked up a couple of inexpensive items to create a miniature gift basket. Holly had fun opening the present, and was excited to discover the cash hidden within—personalized packaging makes for gifts that keep on giving.

manipedi stickers
Mani-Pedis are a true hit with teens | Image courtesy Etsy seller PamAshDesigns

If you’re looking to level up your presentation, it might help to think about those PTA raffle gift baskets. It’s all about the visuals with this strategy—sparkly ribbon, crinkly clear wrap, and colorful accents create a mini gift basket of any teen’s dreams. Here are some of my favorite ways to transform a simple gift card into a visual feast:

  • The Coffee Shop Explosion: The coffee mug and gift card combo is a classic. I like to dress it up even further by filling up the mug with the teen’s favorite sweet snacks—bonus if they’re homemade by you! Include a pack or two of their favorite gum or mints, which teens tend to devour during classes.
  • A Mani-Pedi Package: Tie together a cute pair of flip flops, a current teen magazine for mid-spa browsing, and a nail salon gift card. This gift goes over especially well if you offer to take care of transportation and go along with your fashionista for quality time together.

    popcorn spice kit
    The packaging is part of the present | Image courtesy Etsy seller dellcovespices
  • A Fast Food Surprise: Create a three-course meal for your teen by combining appetizer, main course, and dessert gift cards for them and a friend. A winning combo might be a chicken wing stop for starters, the local pizza place for dinner, and the corner fro-yo counter for dessert. When you pick up the gift cards, ask for an extra cup, lid, and straw from one of the locations. Fill the empty space with a handful of ketchup packets (or Sonic mints) and tuck in the cards. Handing over your “drink” will leave your teen surprised and laughing when they realize what’s really inside.
  • A Movie Night Bucket: Another classic gift basket idea gets a twist here. Give your teen a movie theatre gift card in a specific amount that’ll cover a movie for them and a friend, and suggest that you’d happily drop them off and pick them up. Pack an inexpensive plastic popcorn bucket with a few dollar boxes of their favorite movie candy, and you’ll be saving them the exorbitant concession prices as well.

One final idea is to combine forces so your gift card packs a bigger punch. Team up with another friend or family member and put together this creative gift. Pick up a dollar store 8×10 frame and print out a document with the words, “In case of emergency, break glass,” leaving space for affixing a few gift cards. Enclose the gift in the frame, and you’ve got a punny gift that your teen will definitely be surprised to open.

Teens can be the hardest category of recipients to shop for, but with a well-presented gift card up your sleeve, an excited expression is sure to be your reward. This is a perfect way to express to your teen that they’re seen and loved. And, you’ll feel good about giving them the green light to free spending—within the limits of the gift card, of course.

If you’re looking for more ideas to make gift-giving easier, be sure to check out our gift guides for an endless supply of inspiration. The elves are ready with even more gifting strategies on our Facebook page, Instagram @Elfstergram, and on Twitter @Elfster—connect with us there for unique ways to make every occasion celebratory!

A Year of Simplicity: How to Embrace the Minimalist Gift Giving Trend of 2017

A Year of Simplicity: How to Embrace the Minimalist Gift Giving Trend of 2017

simple cupcake
Image courtesy flick’r user A♥

Wandering aimlessly through the mall, I hunted for the perfect gift: an item that would be useful and beautiful—something that says, “I care about you,” without saying, “Here’s another knick-knack that I know you probably don’t need.” How in the world are you supposed to give a gift to a minimalist?

2017 is the year of consumer simplification—and that can make gift giving even more challenging. Many of us are being influenced by the minimalist lifestyle, from Marie Kondo’s viral decluttering magic to the popular streamlined Swedish aesthetic and “clean eating” movement. According to recent predictions, consumers are immersing in the digital world, reducing waste, and thinking globally even more in the new year.

As being online gains an ever-growing importance, our physical lives become more and more simplified, slowly but surely reducing our collective love affair with “stuff.” Here’s how to embrace minimalism when picking out a gift for anyone on your list in 2017—the year we all hope to finally get our lives decluttered.

Minimalism in Virtual Reality

Watership Down eBook
Digital versions of classics abound | Image courtesy Amazon.com

What in the (digital) world can you give to the friend who lives fully online? My buddy George is a knowledge enthusiast, always diving into the world of learning. Sometimes, it’s focused on his photography business, sometimes a new hobby like bookbinding or making homemade pasta—you’d think he’d need to have his own library! But, actually, he does all his learning via the world wide web.

This year, I’m gifting him with an online course for his birthday. Skillshare, for example, is a fantastic online resource for learning new crafts, hobbies, and trades, from digital photography to video game design. With a gifted subscription to a class, anyone can learn from the most popular and influential teachers of the day in almost any industry you can imagine—without stocking the bookshelf. Here are a few of the classes I’ve put on my own list:

  • Hand Lettering Essentials for Beginners
  • Street Photography: Capture the Life of Your City
  • Knife Skills: A Mini Class to Chop Like a Chef
  • Creative Writing for All: A Ten Day Journaling Challenge

And don’t forget, online booksellers also offer digital versions of many popular reads and timeless classics, everything from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

Impress a Global-Minded Guru

handpainted globe
We are all connected | Image courtesy Etsy seller NewlyScripted

Companies already cater to our desire for interconnected culture—we celebrate the unique spices of Indian cuisine and pay top dollar for fair trade imports. Even the ever-trending Lokai bracelets combine elements from around the world in one small beaded band. Citizens of the world seek out connections to a broader community. They want to open their kids’ hearts and minds to be more globally-focused, introducing exotic locations, unique lifestyles, and even ways to make an impact on people living a world away who they will never meet.

If you’re looking for a gift for your favorite global guru, look into giving altruistically in their or their family’s name. Organizations like Heifer International, for instance, donate livestock (and the accompanying education of how to care for them) on your giftees behalf to communities in the developing world. A gift of a chicken, goat, or cow can provide a family business and help make a difference in a tangible way.

Other organizations offering practical assistance to children and families around the globe are:

The Zero-Waste Environmentalist

Do you also have friends who fit this description: from clothes to decor, and even cooking supplies, they’re steadily moving toward owning as few belongings as possible to help reduce waste. These are the hardcore minimalists, and companies are going to engage them even more in 2017. They’re reducing or using multi-purpose packaging, switching to natural materials, and ensuring sustainability at every turn of the manufacturing process.

reusable bulk bags
Reusable bags facilitate bulk foods | Image courtesy Etsy seller EcoJoyBags

Choosing a gift for these folks can feel daunting, but, actually, they’re the most likely to appreciate a practical gift! Consider gifting a set of all-natural, reusable bags for bulk foods. The bulk bins are a staple for zero-waste living, but only if you bring your own packaging to the store. Mason jars are the norm, but thin-weave nylon bags are easier to carry, shatter-proof, and even come in a tight enough weave to hold nut flours or nutritional yeast.

Remember that the zero-waste minimalist avoids excess at all costs, so less really is more. When in doubt, an e-book version of Michael Pollan’s newest work would never go astray.

The truth is, yearly trends are just that—they change each year. Especially in the tech age, consumer interests move so quickly that it can be difficult to keep up. Due to the less-is-more approach that’s trending now, you may find a lot more digital gifts in your inbox this year. But who knows? Next year we might be back to gifting knick knacks and Christmas ties.

In the age of simplification, it’s important to remember the true significance of gift giving. Whether it’s physical books or digital, real-life concert tickets or a subscription to an artist’s video performance, your generosity and thoughtfulness still remain. You might find that giving physical items is more difficult now than ever before, but that doesn’t mean that the spirit of your gift has diminished in any way. Gift giving moves with the times, but take care to remember the kindhearted impetus that drives us all to exchange tokens of our appreciation for each other.

Need more gift ideas for the minimalist in your life? Check out Elfster’s gift lists for endless possibilities for every trend-follower on your list. Be sure to follow us on our Facebook page, find us on Instagram at @Elfstergram, and on Twitter @elfster for even more ideas on how to give in the new year.

The Year of the Rooster: A Traditional Chinese New Year Celebration for 2017

The Year of the Rooster: A Traditional Chinese New Year Celebration for 2017

chinese new year dragon
Chinese New Year, an exciting celebration | Image courtesy flick’r user Andrew Smithson

A few years ago, my college pal Amanina, known as Amy to her American classmates, wasn’t able to make it home to Malaysia for Chinese New Year. She was clearly bummed—it’s the most important day of her year, a celebration of family and a chance to make way for new luck and opportunities—so I decided to bring home to her with a Chinese New Year-inspired surprise party.

I started with very little knowledge about Chinese New Year, or its traditions, but I can confidently say I could now throw a mean traditional celebration—anytime, anywhere. Amy was touched by the gesture, and it turned into one of my most memorable nights from my college days as well.

2017’s lunar new year, or “Spring Festival,” falls on January 28th, so start gathering family and friends together to prepare your own celebration. Take some inspiration from my impromptu party and learn how to make Chinese New Year festivities a new addition to your yearly celebrations, wherever you call home.

Decor to Create Chinese-Inspired Ambiance

rooster print
2017, the Year of the Rooster | Image courtesy Etsy seller Thenobleowl

Arms loaded full of red—the luckiest color according to Chinese tradition—I rushed home from the local Asian market to get started decorating. I knew the best way to surprise Amy would be a community room decked out in full Chinese celebratory fashion, instead of with the usual motivational posters and pinboards found on our dorm walls.

I filled the room with a truly jaw-dropping amount of red paper decor, stringing up red lanterns in various sizes and making sure to hang one in front of the door—a symbol of good fortune. I also roped my friends into making several long red paper chains to drape throughout the room, just like the strips of glued paper we made as kids at Christmas time, and I covered all of our dining surfaces with red table cloths we were able to borrow from the dining hall.

As I stood on a ladder hanging lanterns, I ruminated on the zodiac symbolism of this holiday—the Chinese calendar is based on a 12-year cycle, each year featuring an animal from rabbits to dragons to pigs. I made sure roosters, the symbol for 2017, were displayed prominently in our table decor to represent talent, confidence, and resourcefulness. Apparently, as I was born in a rooster year, 2017 will be particularly unlucky for me, as is the color red—I was definitely a little extra cautious up on that ladder!

Delicious Dishes to Savor

Symbolizing family closeness, the New Year’s Eve dinner is considered the most important meal of the year. I was determined to honor this tradition for Amy, but because I can barely boil lo mein noodles, I picked up some traditionally prepared dishes at the Asian market for us to enjoy together:

  • Two broiled fish in broth to signify prosperity and surplus
  • Long noodles to bring long life
  • Spring rolls to invite new wealth
  • Mandarin oranges, with stems and leaves, as a wish for wholeness
  • Tangyuan, or sweet rice dessert balls, to honor family and togetherness
dumplings
Dumplings, eaten to symbolize wealth | Image courtesy flick’r user Alpha

While I wanted to surprise Amy, I also wanted to involve her in the traditional preparations, a big part of the fun, so I asked if she would teach us all how to make traditional Chinese dumplings to celebrate prosperity during our celebration. I had grabbed 50 pre-made dumpling wrappers at the market, as well as some basic ingredients, so Amy taught us her grandmother’s method for pinching the wrappers the exact right number of times to prevent poverty in the year ahead. She also slipped a copper penny into one of the dumplings—whoever ate it would be charmed with extra wealth.

Filling Ingredients: 1 pound ground meat, 3 cloves minced garlic, 1 egg, beaten, 2 tbl chopped green onions, 1 ½ tbl sesame oil, 1 tbl freshly grated ginger

Sauce Ingredients: ½ cup low-sodium soy sauce, 1 tbl vinegar, 1 tbl chopped green onions, 1 tbl sesame seeds, 1 tsp Sriracha (or to taste)

Amy’s Lucky Chinese Dumplings:

  1. Mix sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside for serving.
  2. Mix filling ingredients together in a large bowl. Don’t forget to add a penny!
  3. Lightly flour your work surface, put down a wrapper, and place one tablespoon of filling in the middle.
  4. Wet the edge of the wrapper with water and fold in half to create a half-moon shape. Pinch the edges to create a few pleats and seal the dumpling closed. Repeat for the rest of the wrappers.
  5. Lightly oil a large skillet over medium heat. Place 10 dumplings in the skillet and brown for 2 minutes each side. Pour in a cup of water and cover the skillet, cooking until tender, about 5 minutes or until the meat inside is fully cooked. Repeat for the rest of the dumplings.
  6. Serve dumplings with the prepared dipping sauce. The more you eat, the more wealthy you’ll supposedly become in the new year!

Traditional Activities That Bond

red envelopes
Red envelopes for the Chinese New Year gift exchange | Image courtesy Etsy seller PaperAlter

Massive paper dragons prowling down the street to the steady pounding of the drum, firecrackers snapping all around, and fireworks bursting into color in the sky above—this is the backdrop to a traditional Chinese New Year. Celebrating outside of China isn’t quite as loud or all-encompassing for the senses, but I did replicate the cheerful atmosphere with some favorite CNY activities.

Gift giving to children and grandparents is tradition—usually winter clothes, home goods, or simply cash inside red envelopes. This gift exchange practice was so iconic, it had to be part of our night. College students don’t have much spare cash, so I left a handful of red envelopes on a table with blank papers and a pen. We all wrote appreciative notes for each other, then exchanged our envelopes but, in the Chinese fashion, waited until after the party to open them—Amy told us it’s actually considered rude to open a gift in front of the giver. She also explained that you don’t want to appear greedy, so should politely try to refuse a gift at first.

In lieu of fireworks and firecrackers, which we would never have gotten away with on our college campus, we adapted a British custom and crafted these DIY table crackers instead:

tabletop firecrackers
Use party crackers in place of firecrackers | Image courtesy Etsy seller souvenirsuitcase

The Materials:

  • Red paper, 8 ½ x 11
  • Cracker snaps
  • Ribbon
  • Toilet paper rolls
  • Small trinkets, candies, fortunes, or jokes

The How-To:

  1. Place a cracker snap along one long edge of the red paper and glue or tape it securely into place to make sure it will make a sound when the cracker is pulled
  2. Line up three paper rolls end-to-end, wrapping the red paper tightly around them. Secure in place with tape in the center—the outer rolls are merely to help the paper hold its shape during the next step.
  3. Slightly pull one outer roll away to create a gap, tying a ribbon tightly in the space between the two rolls you just created. Remove the outer roll from that side.
  4. Drop some goodies into the open end of the cracker and tie the other neck with ribbon. Remove the toilet paper roll from that side, and you’re finished!

Pulling these crackers will ring in the year with a bang—without setting off any fire alarms. I’d definitely recommend making a handful for you and your friends to enjoy at your own celebration to replicate the soundscape of celebratory China.

Chinese New Year is a meaningful, ancient holiday that has been bringing families and communities together since the Shang Dynasty of 1766 BC. From symbolic imagery to color choices, gift giving and auspicious dishes, it’s been celebrated with the same traditional festivities for centuries, even surviving a ban by Mao Zedong in 1967. And giving my friend Amy a little taste of home during her year abroad definitely got my new year off to an exciting start, setting off my own year CNY traditions I observe each January, wherever I’m currently calling home.

Looking for other thoughtful ideas to bring joy to those around you? Let the elves help with creative party ideas for every occasion, year-round. Find exciting ways to celebrate by following our Facebook page, Instagram @Elfstergram, and Twitter @Elfster.