There’s an art and a science to Christmas tree decorating. I don’t think this fact is recognized by most people, even those who have done it for years.
“It’s easy,” they say, “you just slap the ornaments on, and there you go. It’s decorated.”
But they’re wrong.
First of all, what type of tree do you want? Real live or artificial?
Both can be very pretty. Both kinds can be a pain in the ass.
With a real tree, you have to go out, usually in cold, snowy weather, to pick one out. Many folks like to chop it themselves, which is a whole other subject we aren’t getting into, involving sharp tools and walking around in a forest, usually in an ice storm. Better to buy one off a lot, sold by the Boy Scouts or fire department. (An aside—you notice women rarely get into things like this that involve being outside in freezing weather. No, the female gender usually goes for bake sales or selling cookies.)
Then the problem with buying off the lot—you never know when that tree was cut. Could be September or October. So you get it home, take it inside and set it up. By the next morning all the needles have dropped and imbedded themselves in your carpet, for you to sweep up until June.
Plus, you have to keep it watered, and if you have indoor animals, they like to drink out of the tree reservoir.
When you take it down you have to figure out how to dispose of it.
That’s not to say that artificial trees don’t drop their needles too, because they do, only at a slower rate. It’s from the wear and tear of putting stuff on the branches and yanking it off again every year. They are equally as difficult to sweep up. These trees also get dusty, and I hear they have molds and allergens in them, causing as many problems for allergic people as live trees. Some assembly is required, too, although my friend Irene puts a sheet over hers and keeps it, fully decorated, in the basement. When it gets to be Christmas time, she brings it upstairs, removes the sheet and voila! Instant Christmas.
Now for the decorating part: Most serious tree decorators have their own rules and regulations, but I’ll tell you mine:
- Lights go on first, of course. No matter how new your lights are, or how thoroughly you checked them, there’s always the possibility that there will be one or more lights out after you get them on the tree. It’s best to plug them in while stringing the on the tree. You can keep an eye on the sneaky little buggers that way and know immediately if there’s an outage. Lights are the only part of this process that my husband helps me with. He knows better.
- If you use garlands, now would be the time. I generally don’t. I don’t like tinsel too much either. It’s a vacuum sweeper clogger, in my book.
- Now come the ornaments. I long for the talents of Bewitched’s Samantha, where I could wiggle my nose and all of the decorations would fly out of the large Rubbermaid containers and arrange themselves on the tree in exactly the spot I want them to be. But I don’t have it, yet! This is the time-consuming part.
- All ornaments have to have room to move freely, except heavy ornaments that rest on the branch below to keep the whole branch from bending.
- All ornaments must face forward. It’s nearly impossible. I call this retrodecorum—the natural tendency for an ornament to rotate backwards. This is when I allow it to snag on another branch, to keep it facing forward.
- Groups of ornaments in a series are allowed to hang together, such as a collection of Santas, or nurses, (yes, I have a bunch or nurse ornaments, mostly purchased or made by my family) or snowmen, although not allowed to touch. The key word in collection. Some Hallmark collections are permitted to be in a mass also.
- Other things, such as candy canes, colored glass bulbs or icicles, have to be evenly distributed on all sides of the tree. No two red bulbs, for example, cam be side-by-side. I have a box of little flat wooden ornaments that I painted when we were newly-weds and hardly had any ornaments. I use these at the end to fill in the empty spots.
I don’t always use the same ornaments or put them in the same place year after year, either. All depends on the mood I’m in, I guess.
You’re probably asking why I bother, if I have all of these rules and regulations. Most of them have developed after many years of housekeeping and holiday decorating. I didn’t set out to make them, they just showed up, and as I was putting the (artificial) trees (I have five, so I must love doing this) up this year I started to think about why I do what I do and thought it would be funny to write them down. I’m an author, so I write everything down. So here’s the reason:
There’s nothing as nice and cozy as spending a wintery evening at home with all the pretty Christmas lights on, sitting with my honey and our two canine children, possibly enjoying an alcoholic beverage. Even if we’re watching TV there’s a sense of togetherness. It’s depressing, and the house looks downright stark, when I take it all down.
That’s why I leave it all up until February!