a grandmother showing her grandchildren all about cookie painting. Text reads: Create your own Edible Christmas Tree

Use Sugar Cookie Painting to Create An Edible Christmas Tree


Home » What’s Today’s Holiday » Use Sugar Cookie Painting to Create An Edible Christmas Tree

One of my MOST CHERISHED memories as a child growing up was the day we spent in December sugar cookie painting to decorate the Christmas Tree. Christmas is the time of year rich with traditions, and in our home, creating the edible Christmas Tree was by far my favorite.

Traditions are the things that we do every year that bring us comfort and joy. From the time we put up the tree, until the time we take it down, traditions surround us.

I call it the Edible Christmas tree, but you can’t actually eat the Christmas tree itself. Instead, everything you put on the tree as ornaments should be edible! The highlight of what you can eat is the sugar ornamental cookies! This is a tradition passed down to me from my mother, and from me to my children. (and totally NOT rushing things – I hope to my grandchildren!) I’m also passing the tradition along to you in hopes it’s one you will cherish!

The origins of cookie painting in our home

Back in the late 1960s, before I was even born my mother had a dilemma each Christmas. The glass ornaments kept getting knocked off the tree and getting broken by her young son and two rambunctious beagles. The beagles also liked to nibble on the tinsel she patiently hung carefully on the tree each year.

Her solution: Sugar Cookie Painting! She was going to use these to make an edible Christmas Tree! Growing up, just about everything on our tree was kid and pet safe. Cookies, Candy, popcorn, etc.

Young boy with baby sister on his lap, sitting in front of the Christmas Tree. 2 Beagle dogs sit on either side of the children.
My first Christmas – and the tinsel-covered tree. It’s hard to discern if there are child-safe treats on the tree yet.

Elements to include on an Edible Tree

Just like other households, it was our job as young children to help decorate the Christmas tree. As it was age-appropriate we strung popcorn, spent hours cookie painting, hung the candy canes, etc. The kids in the neighborhood LOVED to come to our house because they always got to pick a treat from our tree. We were “famous!”

My mom also baked gingerbread and made gingerbread boys and girls to hang on the tree because they were sturdy enough cookies. We added hooks to wrapped lollypops and decorated the branches with their colorful charm. To add an additional look of snow we would place mini marshmallows on the branches.

toddler sitting in front of sliding glass door near Christmas tree covered in edible treats.
This Christmas tree is completely Kid Friendly! I will be 3 years old in the “new year”. One of my favorite treats from the way back years was the “ice cream cone”. You can see if if you look closely. What I wouldn’t give for a quick call to heaven to find out how those were made!

The cookies were not just ordinary cookies, they were what is called sugar ornamental cookies. I wish I knew where my mom got the cookie painting recipe originally, but whenever I pass it along, I give her all the credit. I haven’t come across *that* many people in my life, but I have never met another family (or even heard of one) who has used the technique of sugar cookie painting to decorate their tree, thus having an edible tree. I’m sure they are out there. I celebrate with you!

pre-teen girl in front of Christmas Tree late 1970s
Even in my pre-teen, teen years the cookie tree continued. I looked forward to painting the “sugar ornamental” cookies with my mom and brothers! In this picture, I can even see chocolate Santas hanging!

A little How – to for the Cookies

The cookies were made from a dough my mom mixed by hand the day before and refrigerated overnight. It was then rolled and cut with the “old-fashioned” cookie cutters that left a design embossed into the cookie. This helped us have a guide for the cookie painting. Some of the shapes were just that – shapes in which we could be creative. Everyone knows how to paint a Christmas Tree, right?

set of red plastic cookie cutters
Sample of cookie cutters we have used

Really any cookie cutters will do if this is an activity you would like to try with your kids… and HONESTLY sugar cookie painting does not need to be limited to Christmas. It’s a great activity ANYTIME! I like to use this as an activity at birthday parties and summer camps!

young children sugar cookie painting getting tips from grandmother
Our first cookie tree in the works Christmas 2005. My children are 9 months (not pictured, 2 and 3 years old. Their cookie painting party is complete with their Aunt and cousins. My mom is mixing the “cookie paint” and giving the little artists her best advice!
two little girls using evaporated milk and food coloring to pain on sugar cookies
My two littles experienced their first sugar cookie painting in 2005.

Passing along the Tradition

Over the years it has been a comfort to honor my Mother, who lost her battle to cancer of the esophagus in 2007, by passing along the cookie painting recipe, and the excitement of painting and hanging cookies on our tree.

During winter break from school, friends and cousins are invited to Mrs. Crabtree’s Cookie Camp. We all complete the sugar cookie painting activity, drink hot chocolate and have a good time. Each child gets to hang one of their cookies on our tree, and take the rest home to their family.

Sometimes Simple is best

Not every year is a cookie tree. We also have the proverbial “kid-made – ornament tree” and once every blue moon Christmas I get what I call my “Martha Stewart” tree. The one that is perfectly color coordinated and the ornaments are hung *just so*. But most of our trees are cookie trees.

In 2020, since we were HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYSit seemed fitting we would return to our comfort and joy and break out the cookie painting recipe. My children were 16, 18, and 19-years-old… Staying connected to those deep-rooted traditions meant a lot that year. . There were no cousins or friends over, just simple, quiet cookie painting.

close up of sugar cookies after being painted and baked, hanging on Christmas tree
Our 2020 Christmas Tree – simple with cookies and the paper chain the kids made many years ago!

A perfect activity for Homeschooling through the Holidays!

Whether you are up for creating a fully edible tree with popcorn garland, lollypops, and candy canes, I can assure you that the simple act of sugar cookie painting is the perfect activity for Homeschooling through the Holidays! You know that CrAzY time of year when you can’t *quite* get everything done let alone have the kids sit and focus on school work! Check out all my ideas for homeschooling through the holidays beginning in October. You can also get out EXCLUSIVE HOMESCHOOLING THROUGH THE HOLIDAY ACTIVITY FREE-BEE that has the Cookie Recipe AND MORE!

If you would just like the cookie painting recipe, it’s available as a free download in the Happy Hive Shop. Click on the image below!

cover image for FREE cookie painting recipe shows sample pages and a clip art Christmas tree.
Visit the Happy Hive Homeschooling Shop to download this free resource.

Thanks for being part of the hive!

I hope regardless of the length of your to-do list, you ARE taking time for the family traditions, big and small. Thank you for making Happy Hive Homeschooling and our Holiday Curriculum part of what’s important to you. We love having you here!

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I’d love to chat with you each week about the methods I used to organize, schedule, and lesson plan in my homeschool with the hopes it will help you have a happy hive too. In the meantime, “Bee” sure to check out the different methods of homeschooling as well as our 3 easy strategies for burnout.

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