Christmas Tree Chronicles


The time of year has come again to start thinking of decorating for the holidays. For many people it is the pinnacle of holiday decorating. Today we are going to discuss the difference in live cut trees, simulated trees and true living trees. I will also go through decorating tips and procedures to make that tree look stunning. Safety of course is very important and we will bring to light what is needed to make a happy, safe and joyous holiday for all.

There are many choices available to a family these days as to whatís most suitable for them and most beautiful in the center of the family room. There are quite a few types of trees available, each with different characteristics. Depending on your decorating tastes some trees will work great and some will not. We'll start with live cut trees.

The Live Cut trees range from the full and rounded Douglas Fir to the beautifully spaced branches of the Noble Fir -- which even has regal needles! Others include White Pine with it s full but spacious look, Scotch Pine with its large needles, the gracefully branched White Fir, sturdy but sometimes prickly Pinion Pine, among many other types. I could write a book if I described every tree, but these are generally the most commonly found varieties.

When selecting a tree make sure that its needles are fresh and green. The foliage should not fall off when the tree is shaken moderately and make sure that there are no yellow or brown patches on the tree. Make sure it still has that great smell and look for imperfections in the spacing of the branches. Always have the tree cut at the bottom at least two inches above where it was originally so it can absorb water. Live Cut trees can drink upwards of a gallon or more a day when first brought home, so remember to check the water supply for your tree for the first few days after getting it home and setting it up!

Simulated or "Fake Trees", as they are often called, are very easy to select: You just go to the local department store and buy one! Often the store will have a display of what's available, so you can preview before you buy. The nice thing about Simulated trees is that there are no needles to clean up, you don't have to worry about watering them and these trees are often made of fire resistant material, which is much safer. If you want, you can even "style" the branches to suit your tastes. Plus, fake trees often come packaged with a tree stand which you can use them for many years (you'll have to buy this separately for a "real" tree)!

Last, but not least, are the true living trees. These trees are not cut but are growing in containers. Whatís nice about Living trees is that you can have a wonderful tree with that outdoor smell, but far less mess as compared to cut trees, plus they can be planted to decorate your yard.

These trees also come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are most often available at your local nursery. When selecting one of these unique trees make sure that the needles are healthy and green with no discolored areas. Make sure the tree is suitable for growing conditions in your neck of the woods. Also, make sure the container they are housed in will last until you are able to plant them -- which can be up to five months after Christmas depending on the climate conditions for your area. Follow all watering and sunning directions on the placard that comes with the tree and you should be just fine.

Now letís run through some basic decorating ideas to help that tree come alive for the Holidays! I always start out with the lights first. The inner tree lights are important to give the impression the tree is alive from within. Wrap the inner trunk and branches from bottom to top. Place the bulbs in areas as needed. Try to avoid the very top, that is where the tree topper (usually a star or angel) will be placed and it should not have to compete with over zealous tree lights.

The outer bands of lights should be carefully placed along the branches on the outer areas of the tree but carefully trying to hide the wiring so that it looks as natural as can be. Again place lights according where they are needed.

The height and density of the tree will ultimately determine the amount of lights required. I usually use about 50 plus lights per foot of tree height in dense trees and 25 to 35 lights per foot in a more airy tree. You can adjust this to your own tastes. Also, a word on blinking lights: These, in my opinion always, look best when put deep inside the tree for a mystical look and won't be overly annoying, as blinkers can be a bit loud if placed all over the outer limbs...

Next comes the garland. This really should be strung through the branches carefully along the outer limbs so that it doesn't fall off. My usual method for doing this is from top to bottom, intertwining it in the branches. Make sure it is even and any looping back should be done at the back of the tree so this will not be seen! You can also cut it to length to make a perfect circle around the tree which will look better and be easier to work with. Keep the immediate area at the base free of lights so that it will stand out.

Next on the list is ornaments. They come in a variety of sizes, shapes, types and colors. Placement is relatively easy, making sure that the are securely hung on the branches and that limbs are strong enough for heavier bulbs. The best effect is to place them evenly through out the tree, carefully making sure that some places arenít weighted down, with other areas neglected.

Place ornaments not only on the outer branches but also on inner limbs. This will add depth and color to the tree. Once your ornaments are all in place you can go ahead and add icicles or outer tree decorations.

Generally, sparse use of tinsel-icicles is all that is needed to make the tree magical. A generous use of silver tinsel can be attractive at the base of the tree topper. It will add a bit of expressiveness to the topper, once that's in place.

Last but not least is that tree topper. It can be a pulsating star or a graceful angel. Make sure it is securely attached to the top and not touching the ceiling.

Now we come to the area that is probably important during the holidays. Safety! Safety! Safety! I cannot stress enough how important this is. Many a time I have watched a news report where damage, loss of life and limb could have been prevented by simply understanding, then following lighted tree safety measures! Here is a list of things to do and remember.

1. Never leave a lighted tree unattended for any length of time. Unplug the lights! Even going to fix a meal can be dangerous, if not deadly. Especially be aware of this when young children or pets are around, as the can play in and around the tree and knock it over, causing an electrical short circuit to occur.

2. Always make sure that your wall sockets for electricity are not overloaded. This can cause electrical fires in wiring and in your walls. The best way to have all the wiring come together is with a good surge protected power strip with an overload breaker to trip the unit off should too much power be drawn by your holiday display and surrounding area.

3. Never place a tree near a source of heat or flames! Such as a heat register, radiator, electric heater or fireplace. Place the tree away from flammable liquids, curtains and fabrics. It should not be touching any walls or furniture. A minimum of 18 inches from furniture or walls should be observed. I know people who still actually use lighted candles in a tree! This is a definite, huge mistake! If you want to burn your house down and possibly kill yourself and anyone else in the immediate vicinity, that is the way to accomplish it!

4. Make sure all electrical wiring on the tree is intact before putting it on. No frays or tears should be even slightly visible.

5. If live cut or living trees are used, keep them well watered so that they do not dry out. Dried out trees can be especially dangerous. A rule of thumb get your live cut or live tree about 2 weeks before Christmas at the earliest to insure it will last through the Holiday and take it down as soon as feasible afterwards. Dry trees can and will literally explode when presented with a source fire or high heat

6. If you have pets or small children watch them closely. Keep ribbons and hanging objects shorter than 7 inches to avoid problems with chewing or choking. It would be best not to use tinsel if you have small kids or pets.

7. Have a fire extinguisher handy at all times just in case of the inevitable should happen. Make sure it is charged and of the correct type -- ABC types for grease, electrical and paper fires are a good bet!

8. Make sure that the stand holding the tree is strong enough and secure enough to hold the size of the tree intended for it. The tree should stand perfectly upright and not lean or bend. Make sure that the screws are firmly secured into the tree from the stand.

9. Keep gifts and wrapping clear of lights and any wiring to prevent sparks or fires. Presents should not contain any flammables. Gifts containing foods can also be a problem as the odor can attract pets, who may then create havoc under the tree.

10. In case of emergency make sure your family knows the evacuation plan and escape routes in the house. Go through your crisis plan with your family often. Always be prepared! This is important for anytime of year and not just the holidays, but it is especially important now when we have so many electrical lighting displays out and about our abodes.

Please, do not cut down wild trees in our National Forests or on private property (other than your own) unless you have permission from the owner. This degrades our forests, gets property owners angry and can endanger certain species of plants and animals, depleting our natural resources.

I hope that this has given some insight into selecting, decorating and the safety of the Christmas Tree.

Happy Holidays!

Our Holiday Special Issue continues with these offerings:

Our Holiday Special Issue continues with these offerings:

From this year (2002):
Holiday Festivals, Displays and Events - Bah Humbug! - Gift Ideas Under $10
Some Unique Mail Order Gifts - Staying In The Holiday Spirit
Holidays Around the World

From last year (2001):
Diwali - India's Festival Of Lights - Christmas Around The World
The Origin of Some Christmas Traditions - Picking and Trimming a Christmas Tree
Shipping Your Holiday Gifts - Oh Ye Disbelievers: The Fable of Saint Nick
Gifts She'll Love - Wreath - Stockings - Stollen -
Techno Gifts - CD Musical Stocking Stuffers from Then to Now - Every pick's a hit!

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