I was recently told that I am the only person who treats putting lights on a Christmas tree as an art form. I know that isn’t true: my father taught me his method for lighting a tree, and he is still alive and decorating Christmas trees. However, since I got to put lights on the family tree not once but twice this past weekend, it seems to be the right time to share the method I use to create a beautifully-lit tree.
My father taught me two rules. First, every bulb must be on a branch. There are to be no bulbs dangling in midair, and no strings merely lying along the surface of the tree. Second, some bulbs should be within the tree. They should not all be on the outward branches, creating a hollow cone of light, but they should help to reveal the inner depth of the tree.
Last Saturday I set up the family tree with lights and tinsel, but I decided to delay the ornaments until Sunday, when more members of the family would be available for decorating. It’s fortunate I made that decision, because by Sunday morning it was evident that the old light strings were overheating, shutting themselves off before starting a fire, but still unsafe. After church and lunch I ran out to the store and invested in modern LED lights for the tree. Then I stripped off the tinsel and the old lights and began to place the new lights on the tree.
Here is a step-by-step process of the Salvageable way to trim a tree. Once the tree is in place and stable, bring out the lights. If you are using lights bought in previous years, test the strings one by one, setting aside those that do not light at all. Disregard burnt-out bulbs; these can be replaced during a later step. Once all the strings have been tested and are working, assemble them in a single line and start putting them on the tree.
Most tree decorators start at the top of the tree and work toward the bottom, either clockwise or counterclockwise. With a long single string, that method is impractical. Therefore, I start at the top of the tree in the back and install one row clockwise and the next counterclockwise, reversing direction each time I reach the back of the tree. This allows me to have the entire row of strings together at once without having to go through the effort of circling round and round the tree, pulling the strings of bulbs behind me. Each bulb is carefully placed on its own branch. (This is the time to replace burnt-out bulbs.) Most of them are pushed several inches down the branch so there is room for ornaments. Especially with the middle and lower branches, I work along the branch toward the trunk of the tree and back out, not necessarily on every branch, but on enough branches to have lights scattered through the interior of the tree.
For the home tree, I prefer colored lights—red, yellow, green, and blue. A single-color tree may look better at church (white lights in particular) or other places, but I like the combination of colors at home. Tinsel is optional, and I prefer the strings of tinsel rather than single strands to be placed on the tree one by one. Silver is an ideal color for reflecting the lights of the tree. Unlike the lights, the tinsel can be laid on top of the branches, being careful to fill some of the holes left when lights were placed on the tree. Again, space must be left for ornaments.
The ornaments are to be scattered evenly around the surface of the tree, with heavier ornaments placed on branches within the tree, nearer the trunk. Once again, the goal is to show the richness of the tree rather than creating a hollow cone of decorations. Ornaments of sentimental value should be placed where they are easily seen; others can be used to fill in the back and the lower branches. When children are helping to decorate the tree, this is the time to share stories that the older ornaments bring to mind. It is important that fragile ornaments not touch each other, especially if the household includes cats that like to climb Christmas trees.
Our younger cat still likes to climb the Christmas tree. Between the lights and the tinsel Sunday afternoon she got into the tree and posed, lying along several of the branches about halfway up the tree. Since the decorating has been finished, she has gotten into the tree twice. It is startling to see the decorated tree sway and shake, but the tree itself is stable, and the ornaments so far have not fallen off the tree. Our older cat does not climb the tree; he is content to sleep underneath on the tree skirt, and he can be found there most of the day.
Taking a few steps to help the Christmas tree reach its potential in form and beauty is worth the effort. A tree should be decorated in a calm and relaxed way. The Christmas tree is supposed to be fun, not a source of stress. I recommend that the tree trimmer allow enough time to decorate without being rushed, remain hydrated, and be prepared to share anecdotes and memories while crafting the holiday decoration. J.