The Christmas tree. Should it be real? Can it be fake? Do I need to go chop one down? Can I buy it from the supermarket? When does it go up? How long does it stay up? Do I have to let me kids decorate it? What do I do with all my fancy ornaments? These are all valid questions and I think I have tried them all but now I have a developed a bit of a strategy.
I grew up with going an chopping down the tree. Well, I should go back even further. I was told that when my older sisters were little Santa would come and put up the tree on Christmas Eve. Can you imagine trying to buy a tree on Christmas Eve now?? It wasn’t until my late teens that we started buying our tree in the parking lot in front of the local Safeway. Then skip ahead about another 15 years and I finally broke down and bought an artificial tree.
I have had trees go up as early as when the food is cleared from the Thanksgiving table that’s what you do to burn off all those calories, to as late as Christmas Eve. I think everyone should have the experience of cutting down their own tree. It feels like a time honored tradition of the holiday season. However, over the years we discovered a fundamental problem with fresh trees… You can’t ever tell just how big it really is. Any time you buy something for your home and it’s horrible over sized I call this “The Christmas Tree Syndrome”. One year it was so bad that my mom had to take the hedge trimmers cut off the entire back of the tree and then we had to anchor it to the wall because the tree just kept getting bigger!
I take decorating the tree VERY seriously. Who doesn’t love the look of a department store Christmas tree meticulously decorated, looking lush and beautiful. To achieve this there are some tricks. First off if you have great success keeping your tree alive and lush for the full season then by all means keep doing a real tree. The look amazing and smell even better. If you tend to do Christmas parties just keep in mind some people can actually have an allergy to the evergreen tree. Also If you’re like me and live trees tend to start wilting and shedding their needles before Christmas it might be time to switch to a fake tree.
For years I always had a real tree. Several years back I switched to a fake tree. The cost of real trees and fake trees were getting more competitive. I had been paying upwards of $80 for my tree every year. I always went for something around 8 feet. However now, with fake trees already lit you may only be out about $300. That may seem like a lot but after 3-4 years it’s paid for itself. Another benefit is the rigid structure of the fake tree allows me to do elaborate decorating. I can also wire my ornaments into place. This is a trick I learned working in the visual department of a few department stores. I also learned a great way to do luscious bows, out of fabric ribbon, which was always a key part of our tree decorating.
The other piece I have developed to my strategy is having a limited number of glass ornaments. I do have some but for the most part they are either plastic, felt, or other no breakable materials. I then also add silk poinsettias and berry branches to the tree. This allows me to carry the theme to other areas of the house. Since we are looking at adopting I have been thinking A LOT about Christmas decorating with a child. I will still want my show stopping tree but I also want the tree that I decorate with my child. I want the experience of making popcorn/cranberry garlands and hand crafted ornaments with my child. To make these two ideas mesh together I am going to do another department store trick. MORE THAN ONE TREE! I’ll do my elaborate tree as a focal point when you walk into our house but then in the family room I will do a slightly smaller tree (Something about 5-6 feet) that will be the “family tree”. This will be the one we decorate as a family (I have a feeling my husband and my children will ban me from helping and do that one themselves). This will also be the tree that presents for the children will go under. (This will probably also be a real tree.)
To decorate the tree it’s the same strategy as how I decorate a house or a room. Layers. I start the same. Placement and lighting. When I decorate a room the idea is get the big pieces in place an then look at lighting needs then start working on all the fun layers. So for the tree it starts with placement. I’ll be honest. When I have ever looked at apartments, flats, condos, or houses we have lived in I always look at it from the question “Where does the tree go?” Since living in this house the tree has shifted around and now this is the first year with our big open floor plan so I wanted somewhere you could enjoy the tree from several vantage points. Once I picked the spot it was about lighting. Here’s the tip. Do LED lights. They are reasonably priced and hold up MUCH better than traditional lights. The next trick is to wear gloves and wrap the strands as deep into the tree as possible. so the lights aren’t just on the outside of the tree.
Then it’s about getting the topper on. I don’t do a traditional topper. Instead I found oversized ornaments at Costco and used one of the “drop” ornaments upside down as my topper. Then I did a giant bow and lots of silk florals to fill out the top. Next is wrap the tree with your garland, I do ribbon and plastic pearls.
Then I work in clusters. Don’t put ornaments on individually. Clusters will make more of a statement. This also works well for the tradition we started a few years back of picking one style of ornament each year and adding it to our tree. By doing clusters I can highlight these special ornaments. There’s the key from the year we bought our first home. There’s the squirrel from the first year we lived in the country. This year is the reindeer for the year I hit the deer with our car. They key to this is buying 6. Then evenly dispersing them around the tree. This will give the tree balance. Then it’s start filling it in with the plastic orbs. For this you can also put them deeper in to the tree to add more dimension and layers. Then it’s the few glass ornaments and any remaining bows or poinsettias.
If you take it in layers and take one style of ornament or decoration and do all of one kinda ands read it evenly around the tree you will create a much more stunning tree. As for how long it stays up? Well some years it went out at the beginning of the new year and now with a fake tree it’s lasted almost until the last freeze of winter. I think ideally I would like to have it up through Twelfth Night which is January 6th.
The important thing is to find your traditions, your voice in what Christmas means to you and enjoy not just the food, friends and family but the sights and sounds as well.