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Christmas-Tree Reindeer

  • By Taylor Combs
  • Photos by Mike Krautter

Discover Hannah Milman's tree-trunk-deer tradition and make your own little family.

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As the holidays near, neighborhood Christmas-tree stands pop up around the country. The fresh evergreen trees available vary by climate, but in New York City, one of the most common is the Fraser fir, brought in from North Carolina. Hannah Milman, executive editorial director of crafts and holiday, and longtime resident of Manhattan’s East Village, has been buying an apartment-size tree at the same stand at the southwest corner of First Avenue and 5th Street for more than 20 years.

The tree purveyors on Hannah’s corner, Katie Johnston and Jojo Lattanzio, come to the city every year from New Orleans and man the stand 24 hours a day until Christmas. In between sales, they craft friendly deer and snowmen from tree-trunk trimmings. 

"I like to give the deer as gifts," Milman says. "Not only are they cute, they're incredibly aromatic. One small deer is enough to fill your home with the scent of an entire tree."

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The Tradition Continues

The Tradition Continues

When each Christmas tree is sold, Katie Johnston makes a fresh cut off the bottom, which helps the tree absorb more water. Those scrap pieces turn into the body and head of these jaunty deer. Small branches and discs become tiny tabletop trees.

Christmas-Tree Deer How-To

Using logs in a variety of lengths and widths, you can create a whole family of deer. Hannah likes to use fallen birch branches from her yard to create tiny deer to be used as ornaments. Make a herd of large deer for your front lawn using the same techique and unsplit firewood logs. 

  • Choosing Your Pieces
    Choosing Your Pieces

    The mama and papa deer were made from logs approximately 6 inches long and 3 inches in diameter, while the smaller baby deer bodies are around 3 inches long and 2 inches across.

    Any size trimmings can be used; experiment with the scrap pieces to keep your deer proportional.

    Once you select the scraps you’ll use for your deer, use a pair of garden shears to cut off any knobby bits or tiny branches.

     

  • Bring Your Deer to Life
    Bring Your Deer to Life

    Use the small branches cut from the bottom of your tree for the legs and neck. Insert them snuggly into your drilled holes, using four twigs for the legs and one for the neck.

    If the hole is too tight, whittle the end of the twig to create a point. Cut angled ends on the four pieces you chose for legs so your deer can stand tall. It might take some trial and error to get it just right. 

  • Now Dasher, Now Dancer, Now Drill!
    Now Dasher, Now Dancer, Now Drill!

    The larger stump will be your deer’s body. Using a 3/8-inch drill bit, drill four parallel holes into the bark surface, about a half inch away from the edge (two on each end) for legs.

    Turn the log over and drill a half-inch-deep hole, a half inch away from the edge for the neck.

    For a perky tail, Hannah drills a small hole slightly above the center of the back end of the stump and inserts a small evergreen tip.

    The log you choose for the head should be smaller in diameter and length than the body. Drill a half-inch-deep hole into the surface of the bark toward one end of this log for the neck. Thinking of the first hole as the 6 o’clock position on a clock, drill two more holes at 45-degree angles at 11 and 1 for the antlers. Wiggle the drill around a bit once inside the log so you have some flexibility when inserting the branches later.

  • Scent of the Season
    Scent of the Season

    Tilt and twist the head to give each deer its unique personality. Use clippings of fresh evergreen branches for antlers. Hannah uses the same bodies every year, but replaces the antlers to refresh the aroma. 

  • Choosing Your Pieces
    Choosing Your Pieces

    The mama and papa deer were made from logs approximately 6 inches long and 3 inches in diameter, while the smaller baby deer bodies are around 3 inches long and 2 inches across.

    Any size trimmings can be used; experiment with the scrap pieces to keep your deer proportional.

    Once you select the scraps you’ll use for your deer, use a pair of garden shears to cut off any knobby bits or tiny branches.

     

  • Now Dasher, Now Dancer, Now Drill!
    Now Dasher, Now Dancer, Now Drill!

    The larger stump will be your deer’s body. Using a 3/8-inch drill bit, drill four parallel holes into the bark surface, about a half inch away from the edge (two on each end) for legs.

    Turn the log over and drill a half-inch-deep hole, a half inch away from the edge for the neck.

    For a perky tail, Hannah drills a small hole slightly above the center of the back end of the stump and inserts a small evergreen tip.

    The log you choose for the head should be smaller in diameter and length than the body. Drill a half-inch-deep hole into the surface of the bark toward one end of this log for the neck. Thinking of the first hole as the 6 o’clock position on a clock, drill two more holes at 45-degree angles at 11 and 1 for the antlers. Wiggle the drill around a bit once inside the log so you have some flexibility when inserting the branches later.

  • Bring Your Deer to Life
    Bring Your Deer to Life

    Use the small branches cut from the bottom of your tree for the legs and neck. Insert them snuggly into your drilled holes, using four twigs for the legs and one for the neck.

    If the hole is too tight, whittle the end of the twig to create a point. Cut angled ends on the four pieces you chose for legs so your deer can stand tall. It might take some trial and error to get it just right. 

  • Scent of the Season
    Scent of the Season

    Tilt and twist the head to give each deer its unique personality. Use clippings of fresh evergreen branches for antlers. Hannah uses the same bodies every year, but replaces the antlers to refresh the aroma. 

Cute Critters

Cute Critters

Making deer from Christmas-tree trimmings is a creative use of leftover scraps, but almost any branch has the potential to become an entire family of woodland creatures. Hannah uses fallen birch branches from her yard to create small deer ornaments. Attach a 5/8-inch screw eye into the deer's back and string it up with red burlap twine for a rustic touch. A tiny deer family could also be arranged on a platter for a wintry centerpiece. "I use kosher salt for the snow," Milman says. 

Make It Yours

Make It Yours

"Each one has its own personality," Milman says of her growing family of deer. This one has been in Hannah's herd for five years. This year when she replaced the deer's antler branches, she dressed them up with tiny vintage ornaments from her collection. 

Sometimes the simplest things are right in your backyard.
Hannah Milman

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