If we were to take a vote on the most popular decoration in Sukkahs around the world, the winner probably would be… paper chains. Hung from the roof beams and walls, they definitely lend a touch of authenticity to your Sukkah decor.
But here’s a eco-friendly twist on DIY paper chains that is free and fun to make with kids – Palm Leaf Chains. Palm leaves are ideally shaped for making chains and they won’t rip or smudge at the first drizzle of rain, like those made of colored paper or tinsel. (Remember the colored ink drips all over your tablecloth after last year’s Chol Hamo’ed downpour?)
I made chains from palm leaves with my kids yesterday and it was so satisfying watching them notice and enjoy the natural colors and textures that “decorate” Hashem’s world. Plus I scored educational bonus points when we had a discussion about palm trees, which are closely associated with the mitzvah of Lulav.
Now it’s your turn to try this no-cost, bio-degradable DIY Sukkah decoration!
How to Make Palm Leaf Chains – 5 Easy Steps:
1. Find your palm leaves: Take a walk or drive around your neighborhood in search of palm trees. Teaching kids how to identify a palm tree opens their eyes to the wonders of Creation and brings to life what they’ve learned about the mitzvah of taking a palm branch (lulav) on Sukkos. I live in Israel where date palms flourish, just like the Torah says they should. We easily found a palm tree in the yard of a neighbor who gave us free access. My 10-year-old son enjoyed climbing the fence and cutting some leaves with strong scissors. Even outside Israel, many kinds of palms are popularly planted, so you should not have much trouble finding the natural “paper” for your chains.
2. Form the strips: Palm leaves are long and skinny with a tough spine in middle that stops them from bending. Since we need to bend the leaves to form the rings of our chains, we first remove the spines. Start at the wider end where you cut the leaf off the tree and tear the soft part of the leaf all the way along the spine. Then do the same on the other side of the spine. This is actually fun and easy to do – my five-year-old daughter had no problem at all. Soon you will amass a pile of flexible green strips. Snip off the pointy ends and cut the strips to 15-20 cm lengths.
3. Form the chains: You probably know how to do this part already, but I’ll explain just in case you’re a paper-chain perfectionist. Curl one leaf strip into a ring and close it with a stapler. Then keep adding links. Kids of all ages love stapling (with adult supervision) so let each kid make their own little chain. Then join them all together to create a mega-chain.
4. Jazz Them Up (Optional): If everyone’s having fun and feeling artistic, you can dress up your chains with other natural seasonal finds, such as colorful fall leaves or berries. We used brightly-colored bougainvillea leaves that are currently coloring our neighborhood. They’re a good choice because they won’t fade and shrivel like flowers. Whatever you find, let the kids have a blast stapling it on.
5. Hang Them Up: Mazal tov! You’re ready to hang your Palm Leaf Chains in the Sukkah. I think they look most festive looped along the walls.
Once Sukkos arrives, don’t forget to point out the Palm Leaf Chains and repeat the whole story of how your kids made them to all who visit your Sukkah. Through our organization, Leshomra, we find that doing these natural crafts in our kindergarten and school programs is a great way to give a positive experience to kids who usually have very few encounters with nature. There is a special kind of satisfaction and self-esteem that we humans, big and small, get from making something with our own hands using materials we found ourselves. And when Sukkos is over, you’ll yet a bonus boost to your environmental conscience when you toss your chains in the green bin or composter.
So just say no to flimsy paper and cheapo tinsel chains – this year decorate your Sukkah with Palm Leaf Chains.
Naomi Elbinger is a writer, entrepreneur and mommy living in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. She is also one of the doers behind Leshomra, an innovative charedi (AKA “ultra-Orthodox”) non-profit which is spearheading a major shift in our community’s relationship to nature and the environment. To view Leshomra’s gallery of charedi kids going green, visit Leshomra’s website.