02 December 2011

How to Decorate the Christmas Tree

We want our homes to look the best they can over the holidays. Before the end of November we are pulling out the yuletide decorations. While we spruce up the inside and outside of our homes with bells and whistles, don’t forget about the Christmas tree.

I believe that decorating a Christmas tree is a family affair (and if it's not, it should be). Now, the husband and the kids may not want to go around the house hanging Christmas banners and Christmas cards with you. You may not enjoy climbing on the roof of the house to hang lights either. But every family member gets in the Christmas spirit with the Christmas tree decoration. Your tree says a lot about you as a family - your choice of ornaments, tree topping, and tree skirt - yes, tree skirt, and I'll talk more about these useful items later on.

First choose your tree. Many go for artificial trees because there are no dried pine needles to pierce the bottoms of tender feet or vacuum up, I do too. We've had our big Christmas tree for 20 years and it's still going strong. I consider it an investment in our marriage, but that's a story for another day.

What? You can't wait for "another day"? OK, here goes.

The first year Wayne and I were married, we spent Christmas here in Melbourne with my family, and didn't have a Christmas tree, although we did hang a wreath on the front door and display the cards.

The second year we were married was AJ's first Christmas and even though he was only 4 weeks old, we again came home to Melbourne for a family Christmas. I was so exhausted (it's a good thing no one tells you just how exhausting new babies are) that I didn't bother with a tree again.

But the third year we were married AJ was one year old and come hell or high water I was having a Christmas tree, and it was going to be a real tree. We were dirt poor, having just moved into our house and it was a very tight Christmas. I had been to town and viewed the Christmas trees on offer and decided ours would come from Legacy. It would be beautifully decorated and look exactly like the Christmas trees in the picture books (we all have to have dreams).

December rolled on and every night Wayne would come home treeless. I'd ask about the tree and he'd tell me he didn't have time to stop or came from the other direction - he always had an excuse for not bringing me home that Christmas tree.

Finally Christmas Eve arrived and I consoled myself with the thought that at least AJ was too young to understand the meaning of the Christmas tree, or really of Christmas for that matter.

Around 5pm Wayne pulled into the driveway and straight away I could see some greenery (if only I'd it THE ONLY GREEN on the tree) poking from the back of the van. He'd bought our very first Christmas tree!

Oh how very wrong I was.

Picture the scene if you will.

There's me at the front door, babe on hip, almost jumping with excitement.

My darling husband is slowly, slowly pulling on a tree trunk, dragging it out of the back of his work van.

As he pulls, I get more and more excited.

Then the excitement turns to confusion, then amazement and then complete and utter disappointment.

My very loving, very hard working, very frugal husband had waited at the Legacy tree stand until they were closing. He bought the last three - yes - three trees they had left, for the grand price of $5.  They should have paid him the $5 to take them off their hands!

He'd bought three rather large sticks. With a couple of twigs hanging off each one. They were the most miserable looking examples of Christmas trees I had, no have, ever seen. To this day I haven't seen anything quite like them.

I was so upset I started to cry. He was so thrilled with his bargain it took him  a few minutes to realize I wasn't crying with joy.

Those three sticks were stuck in a bucket of sand and my handmade tree skirt hung over it. Unfortunately there weren't enough twigs, let alone branches, for too many decorations, but they were a Christmas tree and I still remember the absolute wonder on one baby boy's face as he looked at all the sparkly baubles and the glittery tinsel.

I can tell you, if we hadn't had that baby to coo over that tree…..

We still talk, and nowadays laugh together, over the three for $5 Christmas tree.

And the next year I saved up, a little every week from the grocery money, and bought a lovely artificial tree in November!

And that's how we came to have an artificial tree.

But now, back to the main topic of conversation, decorating the Christmas tree.

Some artificial trees come pre-lit so that eliminates the need to buy strands and strands of lights. Artificial trees are available in many different colors, white, blue, black, pink, as well as green and are of varying heights and types. Coloured Christmas trees just don't seem like Christmas too me, I'm much more a traditionalist when it comes to Christmas, but whatever floats your boat, or rather decorates your tree.

For a real tree, some families get theirs a couple of weeks before Christmas. Tree farms and tree lots usually have a nice selection of Christmas trees with hearty branches. Be sure that you can’t see through the tree. If you can, then it will be too thin to hold heavy ornaments.  Also make sure to water real trees frequently once you’ve brought them home and placed them in their stand. This will prevent drying out of needles and possible fire hazards or a brown tree on Christmas morning. 

And this is why you need a tree skirt.  A tree skirt is just a circle of fabric that slips around the base of your tree. It's there to cover the stand but more importantly it's there to catch the pine needles that drop, and drop they will. No matter how much you water your tree it will drop needles. If they drop into the tree skirt then all you do is gather it up and take it outside to shake every couple of days. No more messy pine needles on the floor, getting into everything and clogging up the vacuum.

Here are some decorating suggestions no matter which type of tree you choose for your family this year.

1. Start with the lights. It’s going to be hard to put strings of lights on the tree after you’ve put all of the other goodies on the tree. For kids, it’s fun to put a strand or two of running lights so that they blink instead of staying on all the time. Depending on the size of your tree you may only need a couple strands of lights.
2. Add a touch of garland. There are many different kinds. Most people shy away from traditional icicles because they are a fire hazard especially on a live tree. The garland that has icicle like strands are just the same. Some opt for homemade popcorn garlands (fun for kids!), colored beaded garland, or snowflake garland made of plastic. Wrap the garland loosely so that it doesn’t strangle the tree. Let some of the length hang between the branches so it can be seen.
3. Now for the fun – the ornaments. Some families use a colour scheme of two or three colours for their ornaments. Others may purchase pre-packaged ornament sets with a certain theme. Kids can hang ornaments they created in school. You could end up with quite an eclectic looking creation. Space ornaments so they surround the tree and leave no bald spots.
4. The tree topper goes on last. There are angels, stars, and even bows. Some have a plug that fits into your string of lights. Just remove one light on the strand and plug in the tree topper. Others have their own plug that can be connected directly into the top strand of lights or the wall outlet. Some still don’t have a light at all. Our tree topper is an angel that Hannah made at after school kids' club when she was 5. It is a little worn and battered but it looks lovely on our tree.
So that's basically how you decorate a Christmas tree, family style. Everyone pitches in and hangs decorations, checks the lights to find the blown bulb and untangles the tinsel.

Stories are told of Christmases past, present and to come, of who gave which decorations to whoever and why, and memories are made.


  1. Thanks Cath, for sharing your Christmas tree story, and the hints. Our Christmas tree tradition is to buy one new tree decoration each year,and to throw out one of the older, daggier ones. We have a very eclectic mix of decorations too, collected over the years, including a small cardboard angel tree-topper that I made eons ago, probably in primary school days! It was quite a surprise to find it! Thanks, and Merry Christmas, Judy.

  2. The tree skirts are great for the pine needles, but a larg piece of material from say lindcraft and some thing from home that's wider will also stop things from breaking if the fall and you can sit your presents on it.


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