So many of you already have your Christmas trees up, but if you’re like me and you’re just getting to it, consider yourself a late bloomer! We got our tree today and now it’s time to light it up.
A few years ago I decided to not put any ornaments on our tree. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Christmas ornaments and have boxes full of them. Childhood ones. Many I’ve gotten travelling. Some were gifts. Others I just saw and had to have. But, once our nest was empty and I was the sole tree decorator, it was just too much to handle. Hanging all those ornaments and finding room for them on the tree didn’t bring me joy anymore, it just stressed me out. And then there was the laborious task of taking them off, wrapping them up, and boxing them. Squeal! So, momma made the executive decision that from here on out, our tree would just have lights. Lots of them. Tons of them. Maybe for some people, too many of them. But, I found that sitting in a room with nothing but the tree lights on is quite soothing and simply beautiful.
Putting those lights on said tree is another story. There are so many methods and strategies. In the past I went the route of going “round and round and round” with strings of lights but I’ve learned to instead work vertically. If you mentally divide the tree into triangle shaped sections and hang the lights up and down, it’s a bit easier and the result is stunning. Start at the bottom of the tree and be sure to push some of the lights into the inner tree to create depth. Voila!
Getting the right lights is also important. I previously preferred all white little twinkly lights, but am coming around to multi-colored ones too. Growing up we always had those old-school colorful bulbs and I can just picture how beautiful our tree was with them and tons of icicles. I don’t do icicles anymore but I still treasure the memories of them.
So for lights, keep in mind that incandescent bulbs cost less than LED ones and have a warmer glow but LED bulbs use less energy, last longer, and come in both warm and cool glows. You pick! It’s best to use all the same brand of lights if your goal is a tree filled with a similar glow and bet on 100 per lights per foot of tree height.
When it comes to plugging those puppies in, always think “safety first.” Use only properly-wired extension cords and keep all lights away from any flammable objects, including gifts and tree skirts. I’m obsessed with a three plug-in kit I bought a few years back that allows me to simply push a button on the remote and turn on three separate outlets. There are also foot-powered cords that make turning on Christmas lights easy.
For us, it’s always been a real tree. Both my husband and I grew up with real trees and have kept that tradition for the 30+ years of our marriage. There are pundits for both. Surprisingly, opting for the real deal isn’t as environmentally harmful as one might think. In fact, producing an artificial tree takes almost 10 times the energy as growing a live one. And did you know trees in a tree farm are trimmed once-a-year so their branches make the triangle shape we all love? It takes about eight years in a farm or forest for a tree to be ready for our Christmastime homes. If you do go the real tree route, be sure to recycle or compost it properly.
Holding all your ornaments and strings of lights is a tough job for a tree branch. Spruce trees are full-bodied and strong and their branches seem to hold even the heftiest of ornaments while Fir trees are often more expensive than other evergreens but they generally hold their needles the longest.
So why do we put up Christmas trees anyway?
The evergreen fir tree has traditionally been used to celebrate winter festivals (pagan and Christian) for thousands of years. Pagans used branches to decorate their homes during the winter solstice, as it made them think of the spring to come. In Germany, the first Christmas Trees were decorated with edible things like gingerbread and apples. In Victorian times, trees were decorated with candles to represent stars. In many parts of Europe, candles are still used to decorate Christmas trees. The first trees were often topped with a figure of the Baby Jesus but over time angels or stars became the norm and still remain so today.
Many also believe the custom began many moons ago when St. Boniface, who was a priest form England, traveled to Germany to convert the pagans. He found some success but many still worshiped what they considered a sacred oak. He is said to have come across a group of pagans about to sacrifice a young boy while worshipping an oak tree. In anger, St. Boniface cut down the oak tree and, to his amazement; a young fir tree sprang up from the roots. They became followers, decorated the tree with candles and St. Boniface showed them that unlike the oak that lost its leaves every year, the evergreen’s leaves remained year round. This, he said, is much like the life Jesus offers us: never ending and always there.
As to why we puts lights on our trees may go back to none other than Thomas Edison, who put some of his new electric light bulbs around his office. In 1890 the Edison Company published a brochure offering lighting services for Christmas. These electric tree lights grew in popularity when President Grover Cleveland decorated the White House tree with lights in 1895.
So there you have it: Christmas trees 101 in a nutshell. How lovely are their branches.