Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas Tree

I grew up in an artsy family, and my mom was a florist (i.e. professional tree decorator) so I've always had a sense of what kind of trees I like and how I like trees to be decorated. In fact, the first time I saw a friend's tree that didn't match my preferences, I was somewhat appalled. I realized later that not everyone really understood what made a professionally decorated tree look so good, so I thought maybe I would share the bits of wisdom passed down to me from my mom.

First - type of tree is important. I grew up with douglas and noble fir trees, and now I continue with another local species of fir. I really love the tiers, mostly because the ornaments are displayed so nicely and the branches are well defined for lights. You don't necessarily have to choose one of those, but you do want a tree that looks like a cone, not one that looks like a big puff ball. I have no idea what kind of tree that is, but I have seen them.

The most important thing you can do to make your tree amazing is to add lights. Lots and lots of lights! In fact, most professionally decorated trees use 100 bulbs per foot of height. See? LOTS of lights! I use a fraction of that many, but I do use a lot more lights than a lot of amateur trees I see. I love white mini lights, but I also love the C7 light strings I inherited from my mom. The bulbs blink individually, because the filaments separate randomly based on how warm the bulb gets. But, I digress!

The best way to get your lights onto your tree is to string them out and back along each branch, and the easiest way to do that is to use specifically designed clips (I LOVE these things) or even garden twist tie. That way, it attaches to the branch, you can hide the wires under the branch and push the bulbs up through the needles. Also, instead of trying to string the lights end to end, a Christmas tree extension cord that can run up the trunk and provide multiple outlets is ideal.

Next lesson - the smaller the ornament, the higher it should go, and vice versa. The top of the tree should have the smallest ornaments, and they should get larger, the further down you go. Why? Not really sure, but I know it looks better. It also probably creates a slight optical illusion to make your tree look taller. Have I mentioned that I prefer tall trees? Not just tall, I'm talking "I had to cut the bottom AND the top off, and it STILL scrapes the ceiling" tall. That's how my mom did it, so that's how I do it (when I can afford it). Another alternative is to go for the table top size. The in between sizes just don't look right to me.

Last key element is to layer ornaments from the inside out. Each branch can handle multiple ornaments, and it creates depth. If you have a thicker tree, like a douglas fir, you can get away with clunkier, weirder looking ornaments on the inside, because you barely catch a glimpse of them, and yet they create that depth you are looking for. If you have a tiered fir, like a noble or the kind of fir I get from my local forest, you have to go more dainty because you can really see clearly all the way to the trunk.

I am fond of glass ornaments, and happen to own a good number of vintage ornaments (thanks again Mom!), so I prefer to stick to those. When I was younger, and we had douglas firs, we did more of a country style tree, with wood ornaments and pinecones, and buried glass ornaments deep into the tree to create depth. I think going with a theme makes your tree look more professional.

These are some great guidelines for you to aspire to, in order to improve your tree decorating. I am not perfect - I don't use enough lights, I don't always hide my cords the way I should, etc. but my trees look pretty damn good. My mom is proud.

Sorry I didn't get this posted in time to help you this year, but maybe I'll bring it back early next Christmas season :)


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  2. This is so interesting; thanks for sharing! We're Jewish, but my grandmother has historically had a tree (assimilated German Jews on her side)--this is the first year I can remember when she didn't. But we may have a tree in the future, as Mr. Pumpkin is only half-Jewish and was raised by his non-Jewish parent. Hope you had a great holiday!

    Lady Pumpkin

  3. My husband doesn't like a lot of ornaments on the tree but I do. I think that perhaps if I tell him the advise of a professional on decorating that next year I can get my way!

  4. After reading this, I feel like the "The More You Know" rainbow should be flashing across my laptop! Great post; I will certainly try some of your tips next year.


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