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October 18, 2019

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Holidays in glass: Turn the humble Mason jar into decorative magic

Firefly lantern

Firefly lantern

What’s the origin of the name?

In 2015, The Atlantic put together a history of the “container once integral to farming culture” that became a craze among hipsters making cocktails and crafters making just about everything. A New Jersey man named John Landis Mason created the jar in 1858, because up to then a perfect seal hadn’t been found for vessels used in canning food. Mason improved on the design of the times by making a transparent jar (so the contents were visible) with a ribbed neck and screw-on cap. By the early 20th century, they were being mass-produced in America.

There are fads, and then there’s the Mason jar.

From its agrarian roots in the 1800s to its ubiquity through World War II rationing and enduring vogue in hipster culture, the humble glass vessel is all about utility. But as the holiday season ramps up, uses lean into whimsical territory.

Here are some favorites from the internet’s endless supply of Mason jar-driven cleverness.


• Why it’s awesome: Finding real fireflies winking outside might only be topped by bringing their essence inside. A string of lights, a little moss and small pinecones or acorns, and you’ve got a rustic glow that will charm any Thanksgiving guest.

• Supplies: Mason jar in either pint or quart size; short strand of LED lights with a battery pack (try to find one with a timer); dried moss; small acorns or pinecones (either found or store-bought)

How to do it

1. Weave the strand of lights into the moss while illuminated, so you can see how evenly the ‘fireflies’ will appear.

2. Tuck the battery pack into the center of the moss and fill the jar, nestling in a few acorns or pinecones.

3. Screw on the lid and place as a decoration; add freestanding extra acorns or pinecones to echo the jar’s contents.


• Why it’s awesome: Instead of buying an expensive candle inside a glass jar, buy the tea-light size in a seasonal scent and make your own votive. With the chalky-finish paint and hand-stenciling, it achieves a homespun yet stylish feel.

• Supplies: Smooth-sided Mason jar in either pint or quart size (or both for a set); chalky-finish paint in an autumn color; painter’s tape; stencil (try a turkey or maple leaf); scissors; paint brush; epsom salt; baker’s twine; 2 weathered bronze jingle bells

How to do it

1. To make stencil, overlay three strips of painter’s tape on the counter top. Place desired shape on top and trace around it. Cut stencil out, center and stick to jar. Use a credit card to press edges of stencil to seal them down tightly before painting.

2. Dip brush in chalky-finish paint (which dries fast) and cover the jar. When dry, peel off stencil carefully.

3. Adorn the jar with twine, wrapping it around the neck twice between the ribbing. Tie off with a knot, leaving two ends long enough to attach to jingle bells.

4. Pour Epsom salt into jar until it’s about halfway up the stenciled shape. Then add a tea light.


• Why it’s awesome: Looking for an alternative to a real Christmas tree that doesn’t involve synthetic needles? Try stacking jars in winter shades. At the same time it cuts down on cost and cleaning, it finds a home for miniature ornaments cast off from long-forgotten craft projects.

• Supplies: 6 like-size Mason jars; star decoration that doesn’t weigh much (so it can be attached with tape or twine); decorations of choice (from shiny ball-shaped ornaments to tinsel or cuttings of real greenery)

How to do it

1. Fill jars with chosen decorations, balancing the colors and amounts of objects for variation across the ‘tree.’

2. Assemble the jars in a pyramid — three on the bottom, two above that row and one for the very top.

3. Attach star, or wrap a shiny garland around the pyramid.


• Why it’s awesome: Snow globes delight and mystify young children, the demographic most prone to dropping stuff. Go for extra durability and the option of water-free fun with this DIY take on the Christmas classic (inspired by a much more expensive version sold at Anthropologie).

• Supplies: Mason jar in either pint or quart size; white glitter; miniature flocked tree with a base (available at most craft stores); Gorilla Glue; optional water

How to do it

1. Slightly wet the bottom of tree stand and inside of jar lid (Gorilla Glue needs moisture to adhere). Apply glue to underside of stand and stick to lid interior. Use chip clips to hold it in place while the glue dries for at least an hour.

2. Add glitter to jar and water if desired and place the tree in upside-down. Screw on the lid and turn over the jar.

3. Shake and repeat!

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