I have to admit, the first time I saw gilded walnuts on someone’s Christmas tree, I wondered why they’d bothered. While the nuts are kind of beautiful in their own right, they are a little small and can get lost in the scope of the whole tree. But then the party began and I got clued in to the tradition.
As we all know, Christmas trees took hold in the British-influenced cultural zeitgeist in the Victorian era, when the German Prince Albert popularized it by practicing it with his children and allowing artists to capture the moment. Apparently everyone wanted to be like the royal family, and Christmas trees soon became a holiday mainstay. Many Victorians, however, decorated their trees with lots of edible treats: fruits, nuts, hard-baked cookies, and candies were high on that list. As tradition evolved, it became somewhat popular to rub gold paint into the shells of the nuts–often English walnuts–for extra decoration.
Of course, today we wouldn’t actually eat any of the nuts we gilded. After all, most paints are hardly food safe items. However, the Victorian tradition can be nicely updated and made especially pagan by making it a sort of divinatory tradition. At the party I’d attended, the hostess had split all the walnuts and removed the meats. She then filled each nut with a paper ‘fortune’ before gluing them back together and hanging them on the tree. Each guest at her Christmas party chose a walnut from the tree, and its message acted as their fortune for the upcoming year.
Should you wish to do this ornament craft you will need:
- 1 lb English walnuts in their shells
- Acrylic gold paint
- 1 sheet of paper
- Markers or pens
- Thin gold ribbon, cord, or embroidery floss for tying fortune
- Hot glue gun
- 1 glue stick
- Thin ribbon for hanging
To make the ornaments, carefully split the walnuts in half using a sharp knife. Make sure to keep the matching halves together, and use a butter knife or a meat pick to pull out the nut meats and clear the shells. Wipe the shells inside and out with a damp cloth to remove any dust or debris, and let them dry. Then paint the outside of both halves of the walnut with the gold paint and allow them to fully dry.
While the walnut shells are drying, cut the paper into thin strips about half an inch wide and 1.5 inches long. Use a marker or pen to write fortunes on the slips. The fortunes can be as simple or complicated as you want. For example, you can write single words like “Love, Cheer, Heart, Wisdom, Wealth, Comfort” for each fortune, or you can get a little more “Fortune Cookie” with phrases like “All comes at the proper time to him who knows how to wait.” Roll the fortunes up into tiny scrolls, and tie each scroll with a short piece of gold ribbon. Tuck the fortune into one half of a walnut shell.
Using the hot glue gun, place a dot of glue at the top of one half of the shells. Loop the hanging ribbon around and secure both ends to the shell with the glue. Use the glue gun to run a bead of glue around the edge of the shell, and carefully seal both halves of the shell back together. To finish, Tie a little bow in the same ribbon as the hanging ribbon and glue it between the hanging ribbon loop.
Hang the walnuts on the tree, and let the walnut hunt commence. Seekers can crack the nuts open to find their fortune.