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Ever since I was a child, Christmas lights have cast a magical spell over me. Mood, color, ambiance– combined to create a winter fantasy.
This year Michael and I decided to scale back on the interior decorating and focus primarily on the exterior of the house– since that is what the most people see.
With the unseasonable warm weather we had this year, I was able to work on outdoor projects longer– like repairing and painting stairs and porches, all the way in to November. The trees held their leaves much longer this year, postponing yard clean up as well. So, I didn’t really start decorating until the week after Thanksgiving.
The majority of the decorating took approximately 60 hours over two and a half weeks. I used over 900 feet of garland, 10 artificial trees, 65 bows, thousands of LED lights, 24 egg strobes and 10 laser projectors to complete the effect outside. Every year it’s a little different, depending on time, resources and whatever mood strikes me.
Inside, I didn’t put up any traditional, full-size trees but did decorate 12 ‘stick’ and tabletop trees (3 ft. to 9 ft. tall) along with some mantle and stair garland. In the windows I used 27 LED snowflakes, 28 sets of icicle lights and 36 battery operated candles. I experimented with LED ‘curtain lights’ in 6 windows in place of Christmas trees I’d used in the past.
The lights will be on display through at least New Years’ weekend.
It’s the 125th Christmas here at 321 Division Street and no snow… yet. With Christmas only a few days away, I wanted to post some pictures to help you get in the holiday spirit.
Here’s what the house looks like on the outside, tomorrow I’ll share some pictures from the inside.
Live or Artificial… Large or Small… I hope you’ll find some tips here to take a little stress and frustration out of prepping your Christmas tree this year. I highly recommend adults setting up and prepping the tree prior to having young ones participate in the actual decorating.
Choosing Your Tree
There are many things to consider when selecting a new Christmas tree that rely heavily on your own personal taste and the space where it will be displayed. Height , color, fullness and shape are all considerations… pre-lit or not? There are also safety issues to consider, and things you can look for to anticipate the longevity of your tree.
Live Trees- Benefits include: scent, natural and no storage concerns. I have friends that always insist on using a live Christmas tree. Part of their holiday tradition is going out and cutting their own. Very nostalgic. For those that don’t have that luxury, you are likely purchasing a tree that was cut and stored in a refrigerated truck back in August. No wonder there is often little scent and the needles barely make it past Christmas Eve! I’m not going to say a lot here, there is a lot of information online about things to consider and to watch out for when selecting a healthy, safe, live Christmas tree. Remember, the cost does not indicate the freshness!
Artificial Trees– The possibilities here are endless. Height, color, fullness, thick or thin… it’s out there if you look hard enough. Benefits include: Reusable, many are made from recycled materials, more cost effective over time and they are considered safer to display than live trees.
Best Tip of the Day: Strapped for Cash? Did you know there are lots of people giving away trees on Craigslist.com?
There are affordable options out there but artificial Christmas trees can be quite expensive. Remember no tree is perfect, live or artificial. Here are a few things to consider when purchasing a new artificial tree:
- Fullness and strength of branches. When buying a tree online it’s really difficult to check the quality and details. You want sturdy branches that have lots of tips for a full look.
- Check the tips for needle drops. Better quality trees tend to hold their needles because of how they are manufactured. Cup the tip (a finger of the branch) and run your hand back and forth on it. You should little or no needles fall off on a new, good quality tree. Overtime, of course, the needles will become more fragile. I have one tree that is 10 years old and it is so well made, the only way I can get any needles to fall off is to pluck them off.
- Pre-Lit or Not? Personally, I prefer a tree that is not pre-lit. Even though the lights are hidden in the branches and it makes it easier to prep the tree, the light will inevitably stop working. Finding that one missing bulb or short in the wire in nearly impossible. Removing the lights if they stop working can be difficult but you can always add strings of lights to the tree if they do stop working. NOTE: Pre-lit trees can be very, very heavy. Something to consider for moving and storage.
- Branches. Check to see if the branches are individual and have to be added one by one or if the branches are all hinged to the pole. A tree with individual branches can be stored easier if space is an issue. You have to be careful because the plastic fittings where the branches attach to the pole can crack if there is too much weight or force on the branch. The plastic also becomes more brittle over time causing breakage.
- Collapsible Pop Up Trees? They do exist! I’ve seen them in traditional evergreen styles and collapsible tinsel garland trees, that seem to be in most of the stores this year. These aren’t usually very full and most can’t hold many or even any ornaments. They are easy to set up and to store but I wouldn’t expect that these would last more than a year or two.
- As always, shop after Christmas to get your best bargains. Every tree I’ve used for the past 15 years was purchased after Christmas for 70-90% off!
Prepping Your Tree
Decorating your Christmas tree is the fun part. No one looks forward to setting up and prepping the tree, which for me, starts when I take it out of the box, through adding the lights.
Tree Stands. Whether you are using a live or artificial tree, it’s very important to have a good, strong tree stand that is the right size for your tree. It’s also probably a good idea to make sure your live tree stand can hold plenty of water. Most artificial trees come with stands appropriate for that tree. In rare cases, I’ve had to find a better stand so the tree would stand safely and securely in place. If you are reusing an old tree and have had tipping issues– you need a better stand.
Fluffing the Branches. This obviously only applies to artificial trees. Once your tree is out of the box and assembled in its stand, you need to fluff out all the branches before you add any lights or ornaments. I highly recommend wearing a cheap pair of work gloves during this process to avoid scratches and skin irritation.
Start at the bottom of the tree and work your way around and then up, fanning the tips on every branch as you go so they aren’t laying flat and clumped together. This accomplishes two things:
1) It makes the tree appear to be much fuller; and 2) It will actually help stabilize and support the surrounding branches.
(If the tree still looks thin or sparse, I’ll cover what you can do to add fullness in the next blog post– and this works for both artificial and live trees.)
Now you are ready for the lights.
Lighting Your Tree.
Stringing your lights on the tree can be one of the most frustrating parts about decorating. I’ll talk about the different types available in a minute– but here are some things to consider when actually lighting the tree: If you prefer a more sparse or uniformly decorated tree, then you want to try have your lights evenly spaced without holes or dark spots in your tree. If you use a lot of decorations, you don’t have to be as concerned with this as some of the decorations are inevitably going to block some of the lights anyway.
I find to get the best coverage, you should move around the tree completely, all in one direction. Save a few strings of lights to fill any troublesome dark spots once this step is complete. I personally prefer to to move around the tree in circles, from the bottom moving up in a slow spiral (horizonally) instead of stringing the lights up and down (vertically) on the tree. I have tried winding lights around the branches to help hide the strings, only to find: a) it’s very time consuming; b) you need a lot more lights; and c) you still end up needing to run additional strings around the tree to fill the dark spots. After I run the lights completely around the tree, I’ll take my extra strings and move around the tree diagonally, to hit the dark spots and to try and avoid creating a noticeable light pattern.
LED lights are the newest technology and also the most costly to purchase. The good news is that after a few years, the energy savings will outweigh the initial investment. If you are purchasing white, pay attention whether you are getting cool or warm white. There is a definite difference and you’ll want to avoid accidentally buying both. I’m in the process of switching over to LED lights completely. One of the best things about LED lights is that you can connect up to 40 strings together end to end, eliminating a lot of extra outlets and cords.
Mini lights make up the bulk of what most people currently use today. They can still have different covers or shapes but if you use different styles on the same tree. Make sure you spread out each type evenly or you will likely be disappointed with the result. Most mini lights can be connected end to end with a maximum of 3 strings without blowing fuses on the plugs. Mini lights are currently the most affordable and come in the largest variety of colors and styles.
C-Series lights should not be used indoors, period. These are the larger old fashioned bulbs. They are still available but designated for outdoor use only. They can get extremely hot and become a fire hazard, particularly on live trees. I will admit that I have used them on an artificial tree in the past… and they melted the needles on the branches that they were touching.
Multifunction Mini or LED lights. If you want twinkling lights, flashing or fading these are the ones you want. If you use these, you need to run them around your tree more random than uniform and overlap them to get the desired effect. One of the drawbacks is that they cannot be connected end to end and must each be plugged in separately.
White, Colored Lights or Both?.
Completely based on your individual taste, adding colored lights to your tree can create several things you’ll want to watch for. If you use all one color or use the multicolored strings, you should be fine. If you mix colored strings of lights, you need to make sure you evenly distribute the different colors evenly throughout the tree. If you don’t, you could end up with unwanted patches or blotches or color.
The other day I notice one store selling trendy pink, lime green and lavender lights (the wire was colored too.) If you decide to go with something trendy, keep in mind the cost, longevity of the trend and by all means, make sure you purchase enough to finish the job. Keep in mind that 6 strings may work this year but next year you may need 8 and they are no longer available. Then what? Back to the drawing board.
AND, make sure the lights you are purchasing are green wire and not white wire! You may need to look in the box to be sure. White wire strings of lights are very difficult, if not impossible to hide on a traditional green tree.
Now you’re finally ready to decorate!
After you have all your lights on the tree, you might want to take a moment to vacuum up any dropped needles so they don’t get tracked all over the house, especially if your family will be decorating the tree together.
One Last Thought– Say NO to Canned Snow!! The only situation where this might be a good idea would be a live tree. If you do, try and spray it outdoors or take careful precautions to protect furniture and walls if you must spray the tree indoors. Never spray canned snow on an artificial tree unless you plan on throwing it out after that use. And please, please, PLEASE… only spray a tree BEFORE you add lights or ornaments. The spray will ruin them for future use. If you want the snow effect on your tree, buy a flocked tree. They are some other options that I’ll share with you in the next installment.
If you have any questions or comments, please contact me! I’d be happy to help.
Next Up: Decorating Your Tree– To Stuff or Not to Stuff?
I thought I’d share a series of posts on one of my favorite pastimes: Decorating for the Holidays. From trees to garlands to centerpieces– for some, decorating can be a daunting task. Whether you’re a novice or a pro, and whether you love or dread decorating, I hope you’ll find a few of my suggestions helpful as you begin adding a little magic to your home.
Here we are, one week before Thanksgiving and if you haven’t already, its time to start thinking about decking the halls. I want to start with a few tips that might help spark some creativity before you either haul out the old decorations stored in the attic or hit the stores in search of the perfect holiday items.
Most important: Let your creative juices flow! Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Express Yourself!
Best Tip of the Day: Use Ribbon and Picks & Stems* to hide imperfections and add the finishing touches to your holiday decor.
Five Things to Consider Before You Start:
1. Cost– It might be a good idea to have a budget of how much you want, or can afford to invest in your decorating. It’s very easy to spend more than you intend if you don’t nail down an amount as you start your planning.
Do a little research before you buy anything. What may seem like a simple idea could end up costing you a lot more than you anticipated. Ten ornaments are not going to decorate your whole tree and three strings of lights aren’t going to be bright enough. Be prepared to purchase more than you originally thought you’d need or have a backup plan if you run out.
You can save a lot of money on future decorating by shopping the after Christmas sales where you can usually save 70-90% off retail. In recent years, a lot of retailers are marking down decorations by 50% a week or two before the holidays just to clear the shelves.
Some stores have sales running now. If you wait until after Thanksgiving weekend, you are probably going to pay premium prices. AND– the longer you wait, the smaller the selection.
For the Christmas Fanatic— Keep your eyes open year round for items that might be used seasonally. I’ve found lots of end-of-season clearance bargains where I can find large quantities of items for pennies on the dollar. I have a Victorian house so it’s easy for me to incorporate spring, wedding, and other specific floral bunches and floral picks & stems* into my holiday decorating. I also have at least one Christmas tree that I decorate with a natural or woodsy theme, making many fall clearance items a perfect addition.
2. Storage– Be realistic about how much space you have for storage. Many holiday decorations are fragile and require careful packaging and storage which takes up even more space. Christmas trees take up a lot of space. I know a lot of city apartment dwellers still prefer buying live over investing in an artificial tree because of limited storage space.
3. Time & Space– Decorating can be time consuming. It can also be very relaxing way to spend your free time if you aren’t in a rush. If this is your first year decorating or you are trying something new– allow for more time. I suggest taking the time to get organized and sort out what you have before you actually start decorating. I always find I’m missing a box or have less of something than I remembered. There’s nothing worse than getting deep into a project and discovering you don’t have enough to finish. When computing your time equation, don’t forget the time you’ll need to take it all down after the holidays are over and store it away.
You can do wonderful things in a smaller space if you put some thought into it. A small tabletop tree in a loft can be as equally effective as a 10 foot tree in a larger home. A few small additions to your space can do wonders to create that holiday atmosphere.
4. Theme– Are you going to have an individual room theme or overall theme to your decorating? A color theme, perhaps? Themes are great but can be limiting, especially if you are on a tight budget. Keep in mind that trendy styles and colors might not satisfy you in future years. Consider what will work best with your year-round decor and lifestyle first.
When considering color, remember green ornaments don’t stand out on a green tree. Also, colored lights can be a challenge. I found years when simple red or green Christmas lights were impossible to find! Make sure you have enough before you start!
5. Purpose or Repurpose– As much as I love new decorations, I find it’s more fun to find new uses for old ones. There are elements of my decorating that stay the same from year to year and others that I always change, at least make alterations. I often use items in my holiday design that aren’t specifically intended for Christmas decorating.
Try to incorporate items you already have into your holiday look. The everyday items on your mantle or table don’t necessarily have to disappear until January. Unless you want something completely different, try adding a little garland, artificial poinsettias, a few ornaments… and you can achieve the same festive look.
Holiday decorations that may start to look tired and worn and don’t stand up well on their own, may still work perfectly as part of a larger grouping or display.
Keep in mind that effective Holiday Decorating does not necessarily mean you need to completely transform your space into something different. Try simple accessories and you may be able to achieve the same results. No matter how elaborate your decorating plan becomes, don’t let it become so overwhelming that you aren’t able to take the time to relax and enjoy the beautiful atmosphere you’ve worked so hard to create.
*Picks & Stems– Artificial flowers, berries, fruit and baubles used to accent floral arrangement.
Next Up: Selecting and Prepping Your Christmas Tree