One of my favorite traditions during the holidays is to learn about other people's traditions. I am always amazed by how many of them revolve around the Christmas tree. This year, reimagine your tree, blending old traditions with new ideas to make it a fresh and glorious tribute to your family and your home.
Get creative and look about your home for unusual containers that will display your tree in style. How about a large and lovely blue-and-white Asian cachepot? A friend of mine placed her tabletop tree in a bright red metal ice bucket emblazoned with an old English family crest. I love how the splash of red popped in the navy room where the tree was displayed.
For a truly unusual presentation, get an evergreen tree sapling, take it out of the pot and rinse the soil off the roots. Then insert the tiny tree in a large glass vase, displaying it much as you would fresh flowers.
If you opt for a traditional tree stand, try covering it with something besides a tree skirt. Tablecloths are wonderful because they are easy to launder and they frame the tree in soft, luxurious folds of fabric.
Before you hang one ball on your tree, start with great lighting. In my opinion, the more sparkle and shine the better, so I load up my tree with lots of wattage. Plan to use 100 lights for each foot of your tree's height and make sure the strands of lights are evenly distributed top to bottom. If you want your tree to be even more radiant, you can even run lights up and down the trunk. If you're short on time, buy a pre-lit tree.
Before you start hanging baubles, think about what you want your tree to convey. One approach is to make it a testament to you and your family. Festoon it with ornaments passed down through the years, framed family photos or a few small heirlooms hung from ribbons. A friend spiced up her Christmas tree with sprigs of broomcorn harvested from her grandparents' farm. She and her children picked the corn, dried it, misted it with spray paint and tucked it in the branches of her tree.
Or maybe your tree could showcase some of your favorite collectibles, such as old postcards or cream pitchers.
Or create a tree that's dramatic in its sheer simplicity. Pick one special ornament style or color and use it exclusively on your tree.
If you have little ones in your home, consider decorating a tree just for them, full of whimsical ornaments or ornaments they made themselves. Several of my friends decorate artificial tabletop trees to put in their kids' bedrooms, where they serve as festive nightlights.
If possible, it's best to start with a beautifully shaped and spaced artificial or natural tree. But if your tree isn't perfect, no problem. We've taken some ugly ducklings and made them into beautiful swans at Nell Hill's. The key is to supplement the branches with picks. Your picks can be plain evergreen boughs, sprigs that sport berries or pinecones, or metallic sprays that will bring some sparkle and snap. Insert the picks throughout the tree to fill in the branches and add more color, texture and interest.
When the tree is to your liking, it's time to adorn! Gail, a visual artist at Nell Hill's, recommends starting at the top, then working your way down. Hang the ornaments in diagonal lines that encircle the tree, top to bottom, to keep the eye flowing down and around. Start the process with your largest ornaments, burying some deep within the branches of the tree to give it more depth.
Gail likes to add strands of garland next, before she hangs the medium and small ornaments, so she can fill in any big holes. When the garland is to her liking, she hangs the medium-sized ornaments, placing them midway inside the branches, following the top-to-bottom diagonal line started with the largest ornaments. She finishes off with the smallest ornaments, being sure to place them on the outside of the branches, where they are most visible.
At Nell Hill's Atchison this year, we decorated our tree using this year's hottest holiday look: metallics. This year, platinum, soft gold, copper and silver are big, big, big.