One of my favorite Christmas traditions is making ornaments with my kids that they sell to raise money for Samaritan's Purse. The catalog comes in the mail every year around November and they are always so excited to see it and choose what they want. If you've never seen it before, it's not like other catalogs. It's filled with really wonderful things that you can buy for people in need. You can choose from gifts like providing a water filter, chickens, goats, blankets, or honeybees. My kids chose to buy cataract surgery to help restore sight to a blind person a few years ago. This year they've chosen cleft palate surgery. You can also help to prevent human trafficking, empower vulnerable women or feed a hungry baby (another favorite for a few years in a row).
It may be a small way to give back in the scheme of things, but it's been such a meaningful tradition for us. The kids love to know that they've made a difference in the world. I've been blown away with how many people buy an ornament every year, usually totaling in the hundreds of dollars. It's an all around wonderful experience for us.
I always try to choose an ornament that they can make almost entirely by themselves. I think that the work they do to earn the money is such an important part of the equation. Every year they squirrel away like adorable little Christmas elves, gluing, painting and stringing. And I have to walk away so that I don't take over and tell them how to do it the "right way."
This year we chose cinnamon salt dough gingerbread men. It took more supervision than past projects because you have to be pretty careful with the dough when you're cutting them out. Well, you do if you're a control freak. They helped to make the dough, I rolled it out and they cut the shapes. After it baked, they painted the "icing" on and I strung the yarn. All in all, a pretty kid-centered project. I'm not sure if we left them out to dry on the counter too long before baking them, but they came out of the oven really chalky and white. We tried a water/glue glaze and that didn't help.
What worked well in the end was putting a little bit of vegetable oil on a rag and rubbing it in. Another job that the kids were great at.
I'm so happy with how they turned out. I think next year we'll make some for ourselves and use a variety of cookie cutter shapes. I love this version by Amanda Watters on Homesong. We tried the puff paint, but it was a little too hard for small hands to control. I'm sure it would be perfect for older kids. Or moms.
Cinnamon Salt Dough Ornaments
2 cups flour
1 cup salt
1 1/4 cup water
1/2 to 1 cup cinnamon (1/2 cup doesn't smell super strong. Add more depending how much cinnamon scent you prefer)
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Mix all the ingredients together in a stand mixer (or by hand). Watch little lungs, the cinnamon isn't nice to breath in. You may need to add a bit more water, depending on how much cinnamon you use. The dough should just come together, not be sticky. I used my dough hook for the last couple of minutes.
Sprinkle cinnamon on the counter and roll the dough out to your preferred thickness. They won't rise, so whatever size they go in the oven is pretty much how they'll come out. Some may puff up in the middle, I'm not a scientist or a professional chef so I have no idea why. The internet tells me that this happens to lots of people. I just rolled with it. Handmade should look handmade, right?
Cut the shapes out with a cookie cutter and use a straw to make a hole for stringing. Let your kids blow the piece of dough out of the straw so it doesn't get clogged and they can giggle and shoot little pieces all over your house. Fun for everyone! If you put holes in the hands instead these would make a super cute garland.
Bake for about 3 hours or until totally dried. If yours come out of the oven chalky, rub a teeny bit of vegetable oil in to restore the brown/red color. Wipe off any excess oil with a lint free rag. Decorate with acrylic paint and fine-tip paintbrushes.