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Deck the Halls

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Tips for decorating Christmas trees from the experts at Kinderhaven's Festival of Trees

Fans of the River Journal will likely remember that my acquaintance with Christmas trees has been less than cordial at times. Nonetheless, for many years the River Journal (that’s myself and my kids, with some help from Jinx and other friends) have Decorated and donated a tree for the Kinderhaven Festival of Trees. Notice that is ‘decorated’ with a capital ‘D’... because these trees are a step above what most of us are satisfied with in our homes each holiday season.

Following are some tips and tricks of tree decorating from some of the many ladies who put together trees each year for the Festival—trees which, by the way, generally auction for several thousands of dollars. Use some or all of these tips to make your own tree a masterpiece during the Christmas holidays.

WATER—The most beautiful Christmas tree will not look beautiful for long if it dies from lack of water. Believe me, this is something I’ve learned from experience in my own home. A ‘crispy’ Christmas tree does not look pretty.

No matter how fresh your tree is, re-cut the stump before you place it in a tree stand at your home, as the small vessels that take in water can close up quickly. If you’re like me, and it can take several days to get your tree to stand in a tree stand, you may need to take it out and re-cut it once again before you begin to decorate.

Then check the water in the tree every single day, refilling as needed.

THEME/COLOR SCHEME—At the Festival of Trees, the trick to decorating a tree is to have a theme and a color scheme, something we don’t always consider in our own homes. If you want to use ornaments that your family has collected throughout the years that don’t fit a theme, then you’re going to rely on a color scheme to pull it all together.

Themes and color schemes used on River Journal trees for Kinderhaven’s Festival of Trees have included a fishing theme (multi-colored), Scents of Christmas (red/gold), Starry Nights (blue and silver) and "Hiss-tree" (history—all natural materials).

To some extent, the type of tree you have will determine your theme, as a wild tree will not hold up (neither literally nor visually) heavy ornaments.

LIGHTS—The tree is up and you’re ready to begin decorating. The first item to place on the tree is lights. First tip—use twice as many lights as you think you need. For a 6-foot tree, I generally use at least 1,000 lights, if not more.

If you’ve been in the habit of draping your tree with lights just like you do garland, stop. The best-decorated tree will look blah without lights, so here’s how you place them: start at the bottom of the trunk and, as soon as you get to the part of the string where lights begin, wrap them around each and every individual branch of your tree. Yes, you heard that right—each and every branch. This process takes two to three hours, but is the foundation of a beautiful tree and should not be neglected.

Use the same type of lights throughout the process, by the way. I have oftentimes draped my tree with multi-colored lights only to run out and then had to fill in with white lights, which was all I had in the house. THIS LOOKS TERRIBLE. Lights are fairly inexpensive if you buy them when they’re on sale; I’ve gotten them for a dollar per hundred lights.

FABRIC—Not garland, not ribbon, fabric. If you choose to use fabric on your tree, this is the second decoration to place. Use a wide swath tucked throughout the tree to set the foundation for your theme or color scheme.

DECORATIONS—Use large, inexpensive ball ornaments in a unifying color to pull together disparate objects on the tree. Include at least five large ornaments—much larger in scale than anything else on the tree—for visual interest.

Your should have enough ‘themed’ ornaments to be able to use 15 of them for every two feet of tree. That’s 90 ornaments for a standard, six foot tree so choose your theme with the availability of ornaments in mind.

FILLER MATERIAL—Choose filler material, again, based on your theme and/or your color scheme. This includes ribbon, garland, bows, silk flowers, twigs, berries, raffia, beads, pinecones, etc. Smaller, lighter presents can also be displayed within the tree for greater interest. Use more than you think you need—too much is a good thing, said Donna Deshon. Wired ribbon is easier to place than un-wired if wrapping throughout the tree. Un-wired ribbon can be used to cascade from the tree-topper down.

TREE TOPPER—Go wild and creative with your tree topper. This is where you really should be thinking outside the box—almost any item can make a fantastic topper as long as it fits with your tree.

TREE SKIRT—The tree skirt is your final touch to set your theme and get out of the decorations aisle to look for one. Fabric, blankets, sheets and more are available in a wide variety of colors and designs to fit just about any theme you can come up with.

THE TRICKS—At the Festival of Trees, decorators spend a great deal of time with a hot glue gun, gluing the tops of ornament balls to the ornaments themselves. This is done because the trees are transported to the successful bidder’s home still decorated, but it also works well on a home tree to keep ornaments together.

Decorators do not use ornament hooks, but instead wire everything to the tree with a light gauge wire (available in the crafts section of many stores). This allows for precise placement of the ornaments on the tree for maximum visibility.

Spray glitter is a favorite at the Festival of Trees. You don’t want to use it on a live tree, but on a cut tree a spray of silver or gold glitter is a spectacular finishing touch, as the glitter helps to pick up the light to create a magical sparkle.

Fans of the River Journal will likely remember that my acquaintance with Christmas trees has been less than cordial at times. Nonetheless, for many years the River Journal (that’s myself and my kids, with some help from Jinx and other friends) have Decorated and donated a tree for the Kinderhaven Festival of Trees. Notice that is ‘decorated’ with a capital ‘D’... because these trees are a step above what most of us are satisfied with in our homes each holiday season.

Following are some tips and tricks of tree decorating from some of the many ladies who put together trees each year for the Festival—trees which, by the way, generally auction for several thousands of dollars. Use some or all of these tips to make your own tree a masterpiece during the Christmas holidays.

WATER—The most beautiful Christmas tree will not look beautiful for long if it dies from lack of water. Believe me, this is something I’ve learned from experience in my own home. A ‘crispy’ Christmas tree does not look pretty.

No matter how fresh your tree is, re-cut the stump before you place it in a tree stand at your home, as the small vessels that take in water can close up quickly. If you’re like me, and it can take several days to get your tree to stand in a tree stand, you may need to take it out and re-cut it once again before you begin to decorate.

Then check the water in the tree every single day, refilling as needed.

THEME/COLOR SCHEME—At the Festival of Trees, the trick to decorating a tree is to have a theme and a color scheme, something we don’t always consider in our own homes. If you want to use ornaments that your family has collected throughout the years that don’t fit a theme, then you’re going to rely on a color scheme to pull it all together.

Themes and color schemes used on River Journal trees for Kinderhaven’s Festival of Trees have included a fishing theme (multi-colored), Scents of Christmas (red/gold), Starry Nights (blue and silver) and "Hiss-tree" (history—all natural materials).

To some extent, the type of tree you have will determine your theme, as a wild tree will not hold up (neither literally nor visually) heavy ornaments.

LIGHTS—The tree is up and you’re ready to begin decorating. The first item to place on the tree is lights. First tip—use twice as many lights as you think you need. For a 6-foot tree, I generally use at least 1,000 lights, if not more.

If you’ve been in the habit of draping your tree with lights just like you do garland, stop. The best-decorated tree will look blah without lights, so here’s how you place them: start at the bottom of the trunk and, as soon as you get to the part of the string where lights begin, wrap them around each and every individual branch of your tree. Yes, you heard that right—each and every branch. This process takes two to three hours, but is the foundation of a beautiful tree and should not be neglected.

Use the same type of lights throughout the process, by the way. I have oftentimes draped my tree with multi-colored lights only to run out and then had to fill in with white lights, which was all I had in the house. THIS LOOKS TERRIBLE. Lights are fairly inexpensive if you buy them when they’re on sale; I’ve gotten them for a dollar per hundred lights.

FABRIC—Not garland, not ribbon, fabric. If you choose to use fabric on your tree, this is the second decoration to place. Use a wide swath tucked throughout the tree to set the foundation for your theme or color scheme.

DECORATIONS—Use large, inexpensive ball ornaments in a unifying color to pull together disparate objects on the tree. Include at least five large ornaments—much larger in scale than anything else on the tree—for visual interest.

Your should have enough ‘themed’ ornaments to be able to use 15 of them for every two feet of tree. That’s 90 ornaments for a standard, six foot tree so choose your theme with the availability of ornaments in mind.

FILLER MATERIAL—Choose filler material, again, based on your theme and/or your color scheme. This includes ribbon, garland, bows, silk flowers, twigs, berries, raffia, beads, pinecones, etc. Smaller, lighter presents can also be displayed within the tree for greater interest. Use more than you think you need—too much is a good thing, said Donna Deshon. Wired ribbon is easier to place than un-wired if wrapping throughout the tree. Un-wired ribbon can be used to cascade from the tree-topper down.

TREE TOPPER—Go wild and creative with your tree topper. This is where you really should be thinking outside the box—almost any item can make a fantastic topper as long as it fits with your tree.

TREE SKIRT—The tree skirt is your final touch to set your theme and get out of the decorations aisle to look for one. Fabric, blankets, sheets and more are available in a wide variety of colors and designs to fit just about any theme you can come up with.

THE TRICKS—At the Festival of Trees, decorators spend a great deal of time with a hot glue gun, gluing the tops of ornament balls to the ornaments themselves. This is done because the trees are transported to the successful bidder’s home still decorated, but it also works well on a home tree to keep ornaments together.

Decorators do not use ornament hooks, but instead wire everything to the tree with a light gauge wire (available in the crafts section of many stores). This allows for precise placement of the ornaments on the tree for maximum visibility.

Spray glitter is a favorite at the Festival of Trees. You don’t want to use it on a live tree, but on a cut tree a spray of silver or gold glitter is a spectacular finishing touch, as the glitter helps to pick up the light to create a magical sparkle.

EXAMPLESOne of my favorite trees decorated for the Festival of Trees was my first—a fishing-themed tree. The Lake Pend Oreille Idaho Club donated over 50 hand-tied fishing flies, which I hung suspended from fishing line in clear, glass ornaments.

This tree also engendered the famous Marsha Ogilvie ban on live animals on the Kinderhaven trees, as I also hung fish on the tree—Fighting Fish (bettas), also in clear, glass ornament balls, filled with water, of course. There are many beaded wire, hanging cradles for candles available that would hold these wonderfully, as the tops must remain open to allow air into the water. Talk with the pet store where you buy the fish to ensure your ornament is an appropriate fish bowl.

The topper of this tree was a stuffed bear in a fishing vest and hat, holding a fishing pole. The skirt was a piece of fabric designed to look like water.

The Starry Night tree was the easiest to decorate as star-themed decorations are plentiful. We used short pieces of blue and silver ribbon (Jacquie Albright’s idea if I remember correctly) to suggest comets shooting from the tree. Scents of Christmas allows for a homemade flair, with wrapped cinnamon sticks and dried orange slices. "Hiss-tree" had an old-fashioned flair with lots of natural touches—raffia, rose hips, etc, and burlap for a tree skirt (coffee bean bags donated by Monarch Mountain Coffee). Ornaments chosen also had an old-fashioned touch.

-Trish Gannon

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Landon Otis

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Kinderhaven, Christmas, Festival of Trees, christmas trees, decorating

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