Home » Christmas » Decking the Halls For The Holidays: Part Three- Decorating the Tree

Decking the Halls For The Holidays: Part Three- Decorating the Tree

Jeff Linamen

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Ornaments Galore!

Ornaments Galore!

I love Christmas trees. Of the fourteen Christmases we’ve spent in this old Victorian house, this year it will probably see the fewest number of Christmas trees– with a total of seven if I stick with my plan. In past years, I’ve put up as many as thirty two trees. One in every window and then some. Sounds a little crazy– okay, a LOT crazy– but it’s something I really enjoy.

You can imagine, with that many trees, you have to be a little creative when it comes to decorating all of them. I thought I’d share some general Christmas tree decorating tips, as well as some of the imaginative solutions I’ve come up with over the years to make them unique.

First off, I can’t say I’ve ever really seen an ugly Christmas tree. (Alright, maybe a couple.) Christmas trees can be a personal and unique statement of who you are. It can also be a nostalgic trip through the past. Especially, if you’re one of those people that collects a few new ornaments each year or has ornaments made for, or by members of your family. Displaying them can be fun but also a challenge.

So let’s get started with some general tips and things to consider when planning to decorate a memorable tree. (I’ll be referring to all tree decorations, generally, as ornaments.)

  • Know what you have. Before you start your tree, take a look at the ornaments you’ll be using to refresh your memory. Size, color and quantities of similar ornaments, all play a part in the final outcome of your tree.
  • Start with an idea. Is there a theme to your tree? Will it be certain colors or highlight certain shapes or ornament styles? You may want to add to subtract certain ornaments from your plan if you have a vision for the final look.
  • What element(s) will be your constant to achieve your theme or idea? Several dozen ornaments of a specific color or style? Depending on the size of your tree, you’ll want to make sure you have enough to establish your design element  covering the tree.
  • Are you decorating the tree by yourself or will this be a family activity? If you want your tree to have a certain overall look and decorating it is going to be a family affair… you may want to pre-decorate with your base ornaments (or design element) before letting the family go to town with the rest. It’s also a good idea to keep fragile ornaments out of the hands of small children.

    Example- You have may have lots of unique family ornaments but you want your theme to be red. In order to make sure your tree has an even balance of red ornaments, you may want to space them throughout and then let the family add all the rest.

  • Ornaments don’t have to be expensive or necessarily holiday-related if they help achieve your look. Just make sure you have enough ornaments that will specifically carry your theme.
  • If you want to highlight or feature a collection of special ornaments– you will probably want to adopt the less is more philosophy or else your special ornaments are likely to get lost.
  • Make sure you balance the weight of your heavier ornaments on the sturdier branches and all around the tree. Too much weight on one side can make your tree tip over! Larger, heavier ornaments being concentrated towards the bottom is fine but you should still have a sprinkling throughout as you move towards the top.
  • Be creative and be flexible. Don’t be afraid to add another color or style if, through the process, you discover you need something more. There is no wrong or right look– it’s your tree!

Christmas Tree Themes

Mercury glass ornament tree, accented with berry picks.

Mercury glass ornament tree, accented with berry picks.

I’ve done many different themed trees over the years including Victorian trees, floral trees, mercury glass ornament trees, Santa and angel-themed trees, color based trees… Yes, even Beanie Baby trees. I know friends that do sports, hobby, Disney and occupation-themed trees as well. The possibilities are endless here. To be successful, you’ll need to have enough ornaments representing your theme– to stand out and cover your tree in balanced proportions.

Example- If you want to decorate a snowflake tree but you only have four snowflake ornaments, your theme isn’t going to be obvious. Even a dozen or so ornaments of a specific kind, can get lost on your tree if the other elements over power them.

I love mercury glass ornaments. Really nice ones can be quite expensive and I only add a few new ones each year. In order to fill out my themed tree, I’ve added other types of ornaments like painted glass, to be able to fully decorate my tree but still stick to my theme. I also add floral berry picks that add color and fill space without overpowering my featured ornaments.

Stuffing and Filling Your Tree

Try 'stuffing' the branches to fill gaps in large trees.

Try ‘stuffing’ the branches to fill gaps in large trees.

Large trees present a number of challenges including the spacing of the branches. Lower branches are frequently farther apart and if you don’t address them, can leave larger empty spaces that ornaments can’t always fill. A few years back, I adopted a method I call stuffing the tree to help solve that problem. This fills the void between branches and gives the tree a fuller look.

One of my favorite ways to stuff a tree is to use floral bunches or bouquets. The first step in decorating my tree is to stuff the voids with the bouquets, deeper in the tree. Spacing is still important. I try to fill the largest spaces first, while still spacing the bouquets throughout the tree for balance, which means also adding them where they may not be needed to fill a hole but are needs to give the tree a consistent look.

Another great inexpensive stuffing is netting or tulle. I cut or tear random-sized pieces and bunch them, stuffing the interior of the tree. It’s easy to use and manipulate between the branches, adding a soft effect to the overall look. This also might be a good solution for someone considering a flocked or specific colored tinsel tree. Tulle is available in a rainbow of colors and it’s not permanent so you could change the color of your tree every year, if you wanted– without breaking the bank.

I’ve also used pinecones, raffia and other everyday greenery to give a fuller, more natural effect.

NOTE: If your tree is especially thin, you may want to stuff your tree before you add the lights.

Though stuffing your tree may not add to your initial design or theme, it does play an important part in the final outcome. It can be subtle or dramatic, depending on what you use and how much of it.

Decorating Your Family Ornament or ‘Everything’ Tree

Family tree with only the ornaments creating the base. design element.

Family tree with only the ornaments creating the base. design element.

Since I decided to put up fewer trees this year, that leaves me with an abundance of ornaments to either use or put away.

I decided I wanted to use as many of my favorites as possible but still wanted to have a relatively designed look. Here was my solution.

This might help what many people will find they are facing when decorating the typical family Christmas tree.

  1. I gathered together some red and white ornaments, threw in a few silver ones and used them as my base colors. I inherited a collection of gold laser-cut ornaments (Danbury Mint) that I added next. I could have stopped right there and my tree was looking great. All the ornaments were spaced out with color, shape and style– balanced throughout the tree.
  2. Next I added all those favorite ornaments I love, again, paying attention to spacing. Always make sure that you don’t let one area get too heavy or unbalanced (too many, too grouped together.)
  3. I took a step back and made sure my tree still had a good balance of color, shape, etc. Moving a few ornaments, as necessary.
  4. I finished the tree, accessorizing it with berry floral picks as the finishing touch.
The finished family tree.

The finished family tree.

One of the main reasons I use a lot of floral picks in my trees is that it really helps to blend the overall tree. If you prefer a cleaner or more dramatic look, use picks sparingly or not at all.

Tree Garland or “Who Tied Up Your Tree?”

The use of garland on your tree can make or break your final designed look. Garland isn’t the easiest thing to use. I’ve seen too many trees that look like they were tied up and being held hostage as opposed to adding to the tree’s design element.

Christmas tree garland can take many forms. You rarely see the traditional popcorn and cranberry garland anymore– and personally, I’ve never had any luck stringing it together successfully. There are the metallic tinsel garlands (thick and thin), bead garlands, floral garlands, even grape vine and rafia can be used.

Do you drape the garland around the tree? In a spiral? Hang it Vertically? Do you swag it? All choices you can make depending on your skill and taste. Keep in mind that the way you hang the garland on your tree will also affect the quantity you will need.

My 7 ft. 'natural' tree with grapevine garland.

My 7 ft. ‘natural’ tree with grapevine garland.

You can add garland at any point in the decorating process but I prefer to add it first, if at all. When you wait until the end, moving and re-spacing the garland to get it just right can tangle with your ornaments and cause a big mess. You would also have to move a number of ornaments that would be hidden behind the garland. Adding it first allows you to adjust it until it’s just right, before hanging all your precious ornaments.

Christmas Trees and Pets (Children Too!)

You want to make sure you protect your loved ones, whether thay have two tiny feet or four furry paws.

  • Cats climb trees! They also like to bat their paws at dangling ornaments. I’ve know more than one person that has come home to find a toppled tree due to a kitty-climber. Make sure your tree is weighted properly and keep an eye out for felines that show too much interest in your tree.
  • Ornaments are not dog toys… or are they? My Boxers, even at ten years old, pull ornaments off my tree. I have to keep watch to make sure they leave them alone. It doesn’t matter whether they are round (like a tennis ball), plastic or stuffed (like a chew toy), or long (like a stick)– they all look like toys to them. Dogs being dogs, will chew and possibly swallow even glass ornaments so take precautions to avoid that emergency trip to the vet.
  • The rules that apply to toys with small parts should apply to your Christmas decorations. Try to avoid sharp or small ornaments that might be swallowed. Keep the more fragile ornaments out of reach. By all means, supervise small children around your Christmas tree. As hard as you try, no tree is completely childproof, so be safe!

Finally, a word about our foyer tree. We had talked about eliminating many of our other trees and getting one tall tree that would climb through the stairwell  from our foyer to the second floor. I decided to experiment this year and found I could combine tree sections from two of our 12 ft. trees and created a 20 ft. tree! The poles of the trees were the same size allowing them to be interchangeable. By bending and manipulating some of the branches, I was able to combine them pretty convincingly.

Best Tip of the Day: With a little thought and creativity– and a focus on color and balance– you can create your most beautiful Christmas tree ever!

Victorian Foyer Tree. I created this 20 ft tree from two 12 ft trees we already owned.

Victorian Foyer Tree. I created this 20 ft tree from two 12 ft trees we already owned.

Next Up: Tabletop Centerpieces

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