How to trim a Christmas tree: ornaments, Lego trains and whipped cream

The Joyful Edition Logo 2012

For this Joyful edition of the Collectively Creative blog series, I thought I’d share with you my family’s patented 10-step Christmas-tree decorating technique.

1. Get a tree. We’re fake-tree people. Or I should say, we’re reformed live-tree people. Having seen a dried-out live tree go up in a flash of fire and a whiff of smoke once, my husband refuses to have one in the house.

So when we were young and our first-born was only 5 months old, we ventured out to find a realistic-looking 9-ft. fake tree. We then tried to cram it into the back of a Saturn (you can read about that here). Eventually we got it home, and it lived a happy life in our little house with the nicely vaulted ceiling.

And then our family expanded and our ceilings shortened as we moved to a different house. For the first Christmas in our new home, my husband decided to “solve” our too-tall tree problem by hacking off a chunk of the bottom of the steel post. There’s no room for a standard tree-topper — it even scrapes the ceiling — but S refuses to cut off any more for fear that it will be (and I quote) “too little.” It’s our official tree — the one that might just have presents under it if everyone has been good this year.

2. Pull out every single box of lights, ornaments, and Christmas fru-fru that you have saved. Get the kids to help you haul all of it up the two-flights of steps. They’ll so enjoy this part.

junkfood3. Take a break to eat some junk food. At this point, everyone needs to take a moment and sugar up. Trust me. Otherwise, what every parent hopes will be a fun, memorable, Norman Rockwell moment becomes a lot of sighing and grumping and grumbling. You definitely don’t want the kids to figure out that “Decorating the Christmas tree — yay!” is really…. work. (Shhh! I know, I know — I said it. But it IS work, that very thing they try to avoid, so you need to distract them with fun food). Pull out the barbecue chips and sugar cookies and let them go to town.

(Bonus — after they have a little sugar flowing through their system, cue the Christmas carols. It’s hard to get the kids to sing spontaneously any more without juicing the system first.)

4. Put up the tree in 15 minutes. I’ve timed it. We have to get the thing out of its dilapidated box, sort the branches and get them into their proper place on the central post in under a quarter-hour. If not, the kids lose interest, their energy levels flag, and they start to wander away. You have 15 minutes for this step — not a second more.

5. Use a revolving tree stand to put on lights and tinsel. Want to know what’s more fun than making yourself dizzy by running around the tree with light strands? A revolving tree stand. The kids think it’s the most awesome thing in the world that the tree rotates AND they can stand still to put on all those lights and tinsel.

6. Then get ready for the Main Event — hanging the ornaments and drinking Real Hot Chocolate and S’s Holiday Hot Cider (recipes follow). For my kids, the ornaments are the entire point of the tree-trimming exercise. They pick out their own each year and we have started collecting them from places we visit. Here are a few of my favorites:

yodaornament knittinglobster gatorgift

I try to manage the mess of hooks and ornaments and kids, but by this point there’s usually some discord about “He took my spot!” or “She hung my ornament!” Right at that moment, I send up the Bat Signal to S that more sugar is required to ensure familial harmony. The key ingredient to both of these drinks? Whipped cream. And a lot of it.

Real Hot Chocolate (for everyone)

  • Ghiradelli or Guitard milk chocolate chips*
  • Milk
  • Whipped cream
  • Cocoa powder (optional)


1. For a single 6 oz serving of hot chocolate, put 1/3 cup of milk chocolate chips in the bottom of a mug. Microwave for 30 seconds on high. Stir.

2. Then add just enough milk to cover the slightly melted chips. Microwave for an additional 45 seconds and stir thoroughly.


3. Pour in additional milk as desired to fill the mug. Stir again. At this point it’s kid-friendly warm.

4. Add whipped cream and dust with cocoa if you’d like.


*S is very particular about using either Ghiradelli or Guitard chocolate rather than any old milk chocolate chips you can find. It does make a world of difference in the end product, I think.

S’s Holiday Hot Cider (for the adults)

    • Cider (we use Trader Joe’s Spiced Cider)
    • Amaretto
    • Whipped cream
    • Nutmeg (optional)


1. For each 8 oz. serving, warm cider in microwave for about 90 seconds.

2. Add approximately 2 Tablespoons of amaretto to the warm cider (or to taste, really). Stir.

3. Top with whipped cream and freshly ground nutmeg. It’s joy in a mug, I tell you.

7. Finish the ornaments and call it a Christmas tree. Throw all the boxes back downstairs into storage. Congratulate yourself on another year of holiday decorating done.

Finished! (Note the tree top hits the ceiling!)

Finished! (Note the tree top hits the ceiling!)

Until… the LEGO TRAINS!

It’s one of my husband’s happiest moments of the season — running trains around a huge Lego track under the tree. He’s combined a couple of sets so there’s tons of plastic track, switches and three different engines. He and the kids just love it.

The problem is that it takes up all kinds of room on our not-so-very-large living room floor. I couldn’t even move around without stepping on Legos, which, in my book, is akin to trampolining on a bed of nails. Seriously, the only thing more painful than stepping accidentally on a Lego brick is kneeling on one.

Is all this Christmas tree decorating a fail? Did we lose the joyful spirit?

secondtree8. Heck no, just pull out another tree. At one of the after-Christmas sales, my husband found a smaller tree for $7. He brought it home so that we could have a tree downstairs in the family room (where all the other Legos already live). One that he and the kids could run a train around without me getting cranky about being hobbled by stray plastic bricks and minifigs.

9. Pour some more cider and hot chocolate. Then crank the carols, toss on some blue lights and let the kids decorate it as they see fit. It’s not going to be featured in any home decor magazine, but it’s a lot of fun to see what they do as we get closer to Christmas.

10. Set up the trains and track and let the kids (and my husband) enjoy!

trainscenes legotrack

Essentially our tree-trimming technique boils down to three things: patience, a “make-it-work” attitude, and most of all, compromise. Around here, a little give-and-take is the key to making any big project — e.g., painting a house, decorating for Christmas, or raising a family — joyful.

Well, that and a little sugar.


May your holidays be filled with joy, your heart with love, and your soul with peace.


There’s lots more joy in this round of Collectively Creative (wait til you see what these bloggers have cooked up). Settle in with some hot chocolate or warm cider and click on over for more holiday inspiration:

Framing Christmas PJs – (Cobwebs, Cupcakes & Crayons)
J-O-Y to the World – (Pillows A-La-Mode)
How To Display Christmas Cards – (Organized Living Essentials)
Adding Joy to Every Room – (Neaten Your Nest)
The Spirit Of Christmas – (A Ponytail Kind Of Day)
Wrapped In Christmas Lights (Happy Little Kiwi)
Sharing Joy – (Gentle Stitches)
The Joy Of Discovery – (Love, Laughter and a Touch Of Insanity)

About thethingaboutjoan

Mom of three who knits a little, bakes a lot, crafts a bit and blogs about it all.
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31 Responses to How to trim a Christmas tree: ornaments, Lego trains and whipped cream

  1. Wow . . . this post just made me smile all the way through! What fun traditions you have! And I’m ready to go make some of that hot chocolate NOW! 🙂

  2. I can’t tell you how impressed I am that you are able to put up your tree in 15 minutes!! We also have an artificial tree and it takes way more than 15 minutes, and it is no bigger than yours — we need to work on this for next year!! And the cider recipe looks fantastic! Great post!!

    • Thanks, Kenley! A couple of years ago, I noticed that the least favorite part of the whole tree-trimming event was actually getting the darn tree up! That’s when my husband and I started practicing our “speed-sort-and-build” of the tree branches. It definitely doesn’t look as “fluffy” as it once did (when I’d take all kinds of time to make sure it was even and no holes). Usually, I do a little sneak fluffin’ as the kids are putting on ornaments. 🙂

  3. Seriously, Joan, I always find myself laughing from the moment I start reading your posts until the last line. You just have such a great voice. Thank you so much for being a part of The Joyful Edition!

  4. Cul de Sac says:

    what a fun post to read! i love how you describe the legos event lol! i might try to make hot chocolate the way you are, maybe the kids will like it better than the powder one 😉

  5. Great post Joan! And yes, I agree the sugar helps a lot to keep things running smooth in situations like this!!

    • Thanks, Melissa! I know it’s probably not the best thing on the planet, but kale chips (which I really do like) don’t work as well as sugar to make the kids think it’s a party to work all day on decorating. Funny that. 🙂

  6. I didn’t even know a revolving tree stand existed, what a great idea!! We decorated the tree a little bit, but we still have some ornaments to put up, and I’m excited to do it this weekend with my 2 year old, along with some cookie baking 🙂

    • I didn’t either until it came in the mail from Amazon (that would be my husband who finds everything cool related to Christmas). It. Rocks. One of my daughter’s friends was over after school and she couldn’t stop watching it and saying “Your tree MOVES?!?!” Priceless.

      I gotta get a move on the cookie baking front too. I’m hoping for a little help this weekend from the kiddos.

  7. amyp22 says:

    You are right on with the 15 minute window! We have a problem when it comes to the foam ornaments… I want to ban them. The kids want to hang them everywhere.

    • Do you get the packs of 20 foam Santas or snowflakes or whatever shape too? We had about a billion foam Santas last year floating all over the place. Every once in a while, I’ll come across another one and wonder how he managed to escape my attention all year long!

      Hope you have a great Christmas, Amy!

  8. This is hilarious! I love that your tree hits the ceiling. I love that you pump your kids full of hot chocolate to keep them in the spirit, and love that you have a separate tree for the lego train. I only WISH I could get my husband to put up our fake tree in 15 minutes. He primps and messes with that thing like he’s a hairdresser getting a girl ready for prom. It’s ridiculous! At least it’s not me though. Ha! I love this post, thanks!

    • “He primps and messes with that thing like he’s a hairdresser getting a girl ready for prom.” Oh my gosh, I collapsed into a giggle fit when I read that line. Hysterical!

      Hope you have a wonderful Christmas, Erin!

  9. Oh! How I wish I still had ALL of the parts of my Lego train, instead of MOST of the parts of my Lego train. It was a well-loved toy in my childhood.

    • Oh those Lego trains! Apparently you can buy more track for it, and switches, and Lord know what all else. How do I know this? That’s right — my husband again. He’s like a man obsessed with them. Thanks for stopping by! Have a lovely holiday!

  10. A Ponytail Kind of Day says:

    I love this, I am also a reformed tree person 🙂 I am going to try your recipe and the junk food break idea for next year. Great post.

  11. What a lovely post. I felt like I was there.

  12. Leah says:

    Your writing is hilarious – so entertaining! Your “adult” cider sounds fantastic. I’ve added Captain Morgan to my hot cider before but never thought of amaretto!

  13. Ha-ha-ha! I giggled through your whole post. I couldn’t help thinking about my post about my tree which was all about pretty and more pretty. Your trees are clearly all about family and family time together. Thank you for sharing what tree decorating is all about in your household… and it sounds pretty special! ~ Merry Christmas, Thea

    • Thanks so much, Thea! I always look at Christmas trees like yours with a little envy — they are gorgeous, like works of art. I love that. Maybe someday when the kids are older we’ll aim for pretty. Right now, we’re just aiming for “it’s up!” 🙂

      I hope you have a lovely Christmas, Thea!

      • When my kids were little we aimed for it’s up and let’s hope it doesn’t fall over. As the girls got older I moved over to a ‘designer tree’ which they tease me about now. I don’t care because it is my hobby and I have a lot of fun with the deign part (but on a budget). ~ Thea

      • That’s exactly where I’m at in all things related to Christmas decorating! On your blog, you have such beautiful decorations for both inside and outside your house. One day I hope we can move to that stage, but for now, it’s all about silly, goofy ornaments, revolving tree stands and sugar! 🙂

      • That time will quickly pass. Cherish the giggles and goof ups.

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