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.
3. 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:
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*
- 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)
- 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.
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?
8. 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!
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: