The Ancient Art and Craft of Christmas Tree Decoration


In this hour of uncertainty, when we are aware of so much going on around us, good and bad, it’s a good idea to step back and do something completely silly that takes us somewhere else… that step back will transport you to the wondrous and mysterious world of the Christmas tree.

Decorating a Christmas tree is a truly rewarding Zen pursuit, while for some of us (people I don’t want to know right now) it’s a great waste of time.

It all begins with the tree. You choose a tree you love, and if you’re very lucky it has a history, like it was planted in a pot last year and has made it to this season, looking beautiful and fresh and full of life. Ours was covered in oak leaves, gunge, and provided a home for a family of small flies as well as a community of spiders, who are still gainfully employed, despite the decorations. It was bought in the garden centre in 2011 with Bear Candy, the great jewellery maker and plasterer, and carried in her van to our house. After the seasonal celebrations it flourished in the garden, and a goodly person put it in a larger pot. It is now 5ft or so tall, and a thing of beauty.

Once you have got to know your tree, you must consider the downsides. Is it plastic? No comment. Is it wayward? Tie it down. There is a downside to my tree, it has grown branches that are not entirely symmetrical. How dare it?  I shout at it. It doesn’t respond. It has attitude. Hey ho, I can live with this. The worst thing about my tree is that it doesn’t smell of pine, but worse still – it’s soft. Maybe it’s a Norwegian blue like Monty Python’s dead parrot… Who knows? Despite all that, it’s magnificent.

And now to the moment of decoration: things to prepare. Get your favourite bits to hang-on it close to hand, and put the others to one side for later use. Place stuff in order of priority. Mix them about a bit. The decorations you hate should be conveniently lost, or hidden. Put on some fabulous sounds. Christmassy music is good, but if you have an iPod with shuffle, you may notice that it knows that Christmas is near, because it churns out loads of Yuletide music. Synchronicity? Magic? Ancient Wisdom? Belief? Oh, just get on with it. Here are the scrupulous rules of Xmas tree décor, from a real expert.

  •     Love your tree, and have a chat with it
  •     Have a tasty cup of tea or drink to hand
  •     Drape the lights over first. This year I have only put on two sets, and it isn’t  enough. Too bad. Its lower branches may languish in gloom. I have apologised, then had to add more, which now look a mess.
  • Do not use tinsel. Tinsel is a thing of the devil, unless used in an appropriate place. Wrapped around a car aerial of a Ford Cortina maybe.
  • Respect the shape, so do things that accentuate its treelike form. Use garland or chain-like stuff that winds around it in loops, showing its outline in a lovely way. Hang decorations at the end of branches, and put shiny stuff deep inside to glint merrily. Not tinsel.
  • Paradox lies at the heart of Christmas tree decoration. Less is more – more is less. Minimalist trees, unless designed by some kind of genius, look like a bad case of malnutrition. Over decorated trees look like somebody has thrown a dustbin at it. I go for the second option.
  • Meditate: go into an altered state as you decorate your tree… turn into a spider and hang around at the deepest inner bits of the tree and peek out. Is the view any good?
  • Have a theme and stick to certain colours. My theme is birds. Favourite colour is red.

If you stick to these simple and lovely rules, you may be confident that your tree will look great.

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