This past weekend I put up both my Christmas trees (one in the living room, one in what we imaginatively call the “front” room, it being at the front of the house) and in what surely must be a first for a Catherine Christmas, I did it without buying as much as a new light bulb: everything on both trees was bought in previous (ahem, employed) years.
(Well, except for the mini gingerbread men, above, that went into my little silver pails. But it wouldn’t be very nice if they were from last year, now would it?)
I know some people favor lucky dip trees covered in the decorations you’ve been buying piecemeal for the last ten years that come in every color in the rainbow, the “snowman” your three-old-year made at play school (a toilet paper inner tube stuck with clumps of cotton wool) and – I don’t even want to type the word – tinsel. If that’s what you’re into it, I’m happy for you. I’m sure you’ll love your tree as much as I love mine. But that’s not what I’m into – what I’m into beautifully organized trees where sticking to three or four co-ordinating colors results in an elegant but festive effect.
Making your tree look amazing needn’t cost the earth. You’ll already have the most expensive components: the tree and the lights. Head to B&Q or Tescos for lots of inexpensive baubles; these will make up the bulk of your decoration stock. You’ll want about 25-30 of these in 2-5 colors. Next, spend a bit more on some “fancy” baubles or other decorations – I usually get mine from Marks and Spencers, or the Irish store Meadows and Byrne. You’ll want about 12-18 of these, in colors that match the “plain” ones. If you want to go the whole hog, finish it off with a few special decorations, things that come in sets of 2 or 3, or make your own (last year I made the pails pictured above with stuff I got from Hobbycraft).
If you want – or need – to go for a beautiful budget tree, don’t buy anything but lights and plain baubles in 3-4 colors. In one of my past jobs the boss sent me out with €50 (about $67 or £42) and instructions to get a Christmas tree and an entire set of decorations for it – and I did it. Places like Pennys or Dunnes Stores (Primark or Tescos in the UK; Walmart or Target would be the equivalent in the US) have really cheap artificial trees and things like tubs of 50 baubles for buttons (well, you know – €8 or whatever!). When I was in Orlando, Andrea and I hung candy canes from our tree – they were inexpensive, super-Christmassy AND we got to eat them afterwards! An amazing tree doesn’t have to cost the earth. Just use your imagination.
The best way to dress your tree is to do it in stages:
- Lights. Obviously these have to go on first or else you’ll end up with a right mess. Tip: turn them on before you put them on the tree, as then it’s much easier to see if you’ve evenly distributed them.
- Ribbon or strings of beads. Anything there’s lengths of should go on before all your individual decorations.
- Super special decorations (one-offs, or things in sets of 2 of 3)
- Special decorations (e.g. expensive baubles, in sets of 6)
- Plain baubles, one color at a time (the ones you batch bought in B&Q).
If you approach my tree with any of the following things, I may have to strangle you with the set of lights that hasn’t worked since 2003 but which, for some unknown reason, we refuse to throw out:
- Tinsel: the single most offensive thing about Christmas
- Multi-colored fairy lights or lights that play “music” (THE HORROR!!!!!!) I do have lights that are a tinge of blue, but this is allowed. (Because I said so.)
- Trees that aren’t green. They don’t grow that way, now do they? That’s your first clue.
- Stuff that doesn’t match anything (or everything!) else already on the tree
- Things children make (there aren’t any in my house so it’s easy for me to say this but, if some day in the future, I find myself in a house with little people, they will have a designated tree for their handiwork in the hall or the porch or their playroom, and my trees will remain cotton-wool-snowman free. This may seem extreme or even mean, but I don’t care. They have Santa, so I get a perfect tree.)
- Tinsel. I hate it so much I’m putting it in twice.