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A family is walking in the woods on a snow night.

A Christmas Gift for the Animals: Creating a Night Tree Family Tradition

As Christmas gets closer and closer, and the magic continues to build, children tend to get more and more excited. Channeling that energy and allowing it to open up new traditions has led many families to create a new tradition that connects with nature and offers something simple and enduring for children to share with the world around them. The Night Tree tradition is based on a beloved children’s book, The Night Tree, written by children's author, Eve Bunting. This enduring and sweetly illustrated classic is about a family who every year before Christmas heads to the woods to decorate a tree with food for the birds and animals. They cover this particular tree with berries and seed, carrots and apples. It’s their family's way of celebrating the holidays with nature and giving back to the animals around them.

A bird sits eating bird seed in a winter scene.

Creating your own night tree celebration is not only a great family activity but does really help the animals have food in the winter. First, find a tree in your backyard or in the woods nearby. Prior to the night you decorate, spend time preparing the edible ornaments. You can create lots of animal friendly decorations like strings of plain cheerios, dried apples, carrots with holes hammered in the tops to thread string through, and bird seed cookies. When you decorate your night tree, make sure to bring lanterns and warm clothing. To extend the celebration, you can sing carols and have a night picnic with your family.

Once the tree has been adorned with all of the ornaments, come back in a few days to see if the animals have eaten anything and look for animal tracks around your tree.

In advance of your Night Tree activity, bake some Bird Seed Cookies to hang on it and keep the birds and small animals fed through the winter. This recipe is a little messy but is a healthy treat to share with wildlife.

birdseed cookies on a table overhead view with cookie cutter

Bird Seed Cookies Recipe


  • One packet of pectin
  • 1 1/2 cups cold water
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 cups birdseed
  • Plastic Straws
  • Ribbon
  • Mini Muffin Tins

Make Your Bird Seed Cookies

Step 1: Mix one package of pectin with one and a half cups of cold water and bring to a boil, stirring frequently.

Step 2: In a large bowl, mix one cup of flour with three cups of bird seed. Add liquid  mixture and stir. 

Step 3: Fill mini muffin tins with mixture, or form balls by hand. Cut straws into two-inch pieces and then poke into the center of the cookie. This will allow a hole to set in the cookies so you can string a piece of yarn later. 

Step 4: Let the cookies sit for about six hours before removing them from the muffin tray. If you are pressed for time, you can speed this step up by putting the tray in the refrigerator for three hours. Depending on how dry the cookies are when you pull them out, you might need to turn them upside down and allow them to set on the underside as well. 

Step 5: Tie a string or piece of yarn through the hole and hang them on a tree for the birds and animals to munch on all winter! 

A bird seed ornament hangs on a tree.

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