And the first one is… egg nog. Not really — but it helps. If you want to do it right, listen to old Granny Claus here. She’s trimmed a few trees over the years. One year she even said, “Tree trimming ho!” So everyone called her a ho even though she just forgot the second and third ho’s.
But back to our list. Serious now. You’ve bought your tree, picked out one you like or chopped one down or unearthed it from its cardboard coffin. If you have a man in your life you cook for you might have tricked him into setting it up for you. You’ve put the books under the legs of the stand so the tree is moderately straight. (Unless it’s fake and it better be damn straight. Fake or real is fine with me, by the way. I go with nature but I am slightly allergic to pine so I understand fake trees. Some of them are lovely. None of those are pink or white though.)
Then you’ve unearthed all your lights and baubles. Warm memories of Christmases past flood back to you, like the time the tree fell over and smashed all the pretty balls, or the time you went skiing and people were rude because they hoped they’d have the slopes to themselves. Now you’re ready. Let’s begin.
1. Put the lights on first. But before you do, plug them into the wall and fix them. If they still don’t work, throw them back in the box to deal with next year. Plenty of company in the light box. That said, put on LOTS of lights, especially on the side of the tree facing the window. You need something to disguise that flat hole in the tree back there. Oh, and blue LED lights and the old kind do NOT mix.
2. Next put on the biggest, showiest balls. (I’m going to say ‘balls’ a lot. Stop smirking.) I used to have eight or ten lovely large gold balls that reflect the lights so nicely. Until the tree fell over.
3. Avoid tinsel at all costs. Well, maybe get some green tinsel if you like tinsel but be prepared for angry looks at the recycling center after the holidays. Avoid flocking at all costs. Because it’s ugly and messy. Does anybody flock their tree anymore?
4. Put on the new ornaments. Every year you should get a few new ones. The old balls break, plus it’s nice to get something new each year. Once in awhile get some ornaments that say the year on them. It’s all about the memories, making or dredging them up. Commemorate a new member of your family with an ornament: new baby, new in-law, new status as a granny. (Grannies love that sort of stuff.) Put these ornaments front and center so everyone can admire them. If you’re crafty, buy cute wooden ornaments and put names and dates on them of the kids, grandkids, etc., with puff paint or markers. Even if they don’t look fantastic you’ll be happy you did it in years to come.
5. Next put on the smaller colored balls and all the other crapola from years past, the dumb thing from the ornament exchange and the kids’ preschool projects, taking care to step back once in awhile and view your masterpiece from across the room. Alternately have your spouse stand across the room and shout at you. Or bring you more egg nog.
6. Not feeling flush and have a whole tree to decorate? Back to craftiness: make some ornaments out of felt and glue. Nothing could be easier than a felt snowman with a glued-on hat and scarf. Blanket stitch the edges, stuff him with cotton balls, and make a thread hanger. My first Christmas away from my family I made half a dozen of these. Several survive to this day.
7. There’s a rule: you can never have too many small red balls or candy canes. Not expensive but showy, as all good baubles should be.
8. Garlands are your friend. When bead garlands came out in the ’80s I bought them in gold, silver, and red. Great for throwing to the top of the tree a la tinsel. I have rope ones too, and ones with sequiny balls on them, and more. Charlie Brown and I love garlands.
9. Everything DOES NOT have to go on the tree. Decorate your formal dining room, if you have one. You’ll be using it over the holidays. Some ornaments are too big (like the lovely needlepoint ones my friends made me) or heavy to go on the tree. Put them on tables, the stairway, around the guest bath mirror.
10. You don’t have to put anything on top. When I was a kid we had a light-up angel with white hair. She was just creepy. I go with a papier mache star these days, when I can get it up there. The barbecue fork is your tool here. But the tree looks fine without a topper. Really.
If this takes more than two hours you are obsessing. And you know you’re going to be rearranging over the next weeks when you spot a lonely branch or an unlit spot. So have some more egg nog, put on some cheesy carols, and relax.