Make Your Home Merry and Bright

Whether you love fully decking out the halls or you prefer something a little more muted, there’s no wrong way to decorate your home for the holidays.

The holiday season has arrived once again, which means it’s time to deck your halls for a holly, jolly Christmas.

For some people, this can be a joyful process. For others, the thought of trudging up ladders, hoisting trees and blowing the dust off decorations brings out their inner Ebenezer.

No matter where you lie on the Christmas spirit spectrum, here are some holiday decorating tips to help your heart grow three sizes this year.

Oh, Christmas Tree…

Trees may be a symbol of peace and serenity, yet setting up a Christmas tree can be anything but, especially if you don’t make the right preparations.

The first thing you need to decide is whether to go with a real tree or an artificial one. The beauty of artificial trees is they’re reusable, low maintenance and often fire resistant.

Real trees are popular for their own reasons. For many families, going to a tree farm or nursery to pick out their tree is a beloved yearly tradition. Also, while artificial trees are reusable, they’re usually made from plastic. Real trees are biodegradable, recyclable and smell incredible. Plus, like any other crop, they’re a sustainable way for local farmers to make a living.

“A lot of people think that these trees take a while to regrow, but it’s a yearly thing and it’s healthy for the trees,” says Scott Gensler, co-owner of Gensler Gardens in Loves Park, Ill. “A tree farmer might harvest 20,000 trees, then plant 22,000 trees. It’s a good thing.”

If you decide to go the real tree route, there are still a few things you need to keep in mind.

“The best advice that I can give for a tree is to make sure it’s fresh cut,” Gensler says. “When people get a fresh-cut tree, they need to get it in water within the hour.”

If that’s not possible, the next best thing to do is to make another cut at least 1 inch from the bottom of the trunk before getting it into its stand.

“That’s the difference between having a tree for two weeks and having it for a month,” says Gensler, adding that all of his greenhouse/nursery’s trees are stored in water while they’re on display.

It is also important to keep your tree from drying up. A dried-up tree can be more than just an eyesore; it can be a fire hazard as well. Keep your tree away from air vents, open flames and outlets.

Know Your Tree Types

There are many types of trees to choose from. Premium Christmas trees generally come from the fir family. For Gensler, the Fraser fir is his most popular seller, but the Canaan fir has its advantages, too, particularly for customers who prefer to buy local.

“Farmers in the area are able to grow Canaan firs, and they can grow them in a faster time period,” he says. “Canaan fir usually takes less time to get to the market, which gives them an advantage as a cost item.”

Another tree that’s growing in popularity is the Concolor fir, which has several unique attributes. Their long needles reach up to 2 inches long, curve upward and are quite strong, making them ideal for holding ornaments. Their bluish-silver tint gives them a unique look – perhaps the reason why they’re sometimes referred to as “white firs.”

But, it’s their scent that really sets them apart from other trees on the lot.

“A Concolor fir has almost a citrus-like fragrance to it,” says Gensler, who used a concolor in his own home. “It still has an evergreen aroma to it, but that citrus undertone, in my opinion, is a bonus.”

Tree hunters looking for a less-expensive tree might want to consider the Scotch or Scots pine, which is one of the most common types of Christmas trees, along with the Douglas fir. Gensler advises against purchasing balsam fir, a locally grown tree with a strong scent.

“Balsams tend to lose their needles just a little more quickly,” he cautions. “When you’re buying a tree that’s $20 or $30 cheaper, you’re probably losing the longevity of the tree.”

Measure Up

There’s a famous scene in the holiday film “Christmas Vacation” when Clark Griswold cuts the ties to the family Christmas tree, only to have the boughs smash through the living room windows. If only Clark had measured first.

“Get the measuring tape out, before you come to the tree farm,” Gensler says. “No matter where you go, the tree looks smaller, whether it’s outside or in our temperature-controlled greenhouse.”

Another thing to consider is the size of your tree-topper. A typical star or angel topper is going to add at least 6-8 inches to the top of your tree.

“I like to keep my tree 12-18 inches below my ceiling height,” Gensler says. “You don’t want your ornaments to hit the ceiling.”

Once the tree is up, you’ll want to make sure it stays up. The easiest and best way to do this is to make sure you’re using the correct stand.

“Make sure your stand is rated for the size tree that you have,” Gensler says. “An 8-foot-rated stand is meant for an 8-foot tree only. If it’s an 8½-foot tree, you should go to the next-sized tree stand.”

Tree weight can also be a factor when it comes to your tree stand. A Concolor fir, for example, is much heavier than its evergreen siblings.

“For an 8-foot Concolor tree, I would prefer an 8- to 10-foot tree stand versus one that is secured for 6- to 8-foot trees,” says Gensler.

Decorate Your Way

There really isn’t a wrong way to decorate your tree.

“Some people like to go big and bold with huge ornaments and bright decor,” says Elizabeth Burkholder, co-owner with Minda Woith of Shine, a home/garden decor and gift boutique in Loves Park, Ill. “Other people prefer more subdued and finessed, with smaller items. We just try to offer as many options as we can.”

The options this year have been limited by supply chain problems and labor shortages caused by the pandemic. Fortunately, Burkholder and Woith place orders far in advance of the holiday season.

“We tend to get underway a little early here,” Burkholder says.

While the prospect of decorating a home for the holidays may seem daunting, knowing what’s trending and selling can help to hone your ideas.

“Our featured item is gnomes,” Burkholder says. “We have gnome ornaments, gnome figures, gnome towels – people just love gnomes of all shapes and sizes.”

Other smaller, popular holiday items are the Swedish rotary candle holders.

“We sell out of them every year,” Burkholder says. “They’re easy to ship, they fit in a stocking, they can be used year after year and they’re just an adorable little item.”

Hand-carved wood is trending in the right direction this year, with figurines of Santa, carvings of Christmas trees and intricately carved holiday scenes that incorporate music, motion and lights.

“They’ve been really popular for us,” Burkholder says.

Nativity scenes are also an important item. While the traditional scene is still very popular, many alternative sets are popping up that feature minimalist figures, or scenes created from materials like pewter or soap stone.
“There are several options for nativities,” Burkholder says.

As for color coordination of home decor, there are several trends out there that can provide guidance.

“Last year, the trend was buffalo plaid,” Burkholder says. “That’s carried over, but the trend this year is a mossy and woodsy look, with natural fibers. It’s a natural, earthy kind of feel.”

No matter your taste, Shine is stocked and ready for any and all holiday tastes.

“We still have our die-hard glitter fans,” Burkholder says with a laugh. “But, how people decorate their home is a subjective thing. We just like to make sure we have something to offer everyone.

Go Green

There are many options available when it comes to Christmas plants. The poinsettia, once the dominant holiday staple, is starting to lose its title as “most common Christmas plant.”

“We’ve been growing poinsettias for a long time and they’re going less and less every year,” Gensler says.
The trendy new plant option is the porch pot, which includes an evergreen tree that comes in several styles, colors and sizes.

“Our porch pots have gotten to be extremely popular,” Gensler says. “We sell them 2-to-1 over anything else, including wreaths.”

In addition to variety, porch pots are very hardy and they’re able to withstand temperatures in the low 30s, giving them a longevity that lasts far beyond the Christmas season.

“We make them in such a way that people can put them out in November, and they still look good in March,” Gensler says. “It’s not just the Christmas season they’re catching, but the whole winter, as well.”

This means you can purchase a porch pot for your holiday decor, slap a bow on it for Christmas, then remove the bow after the holidays. The plant will still maintain a beautiful look up until temperatures start rising.

Porch pots are low maintenance, another attraction. As opposed to flowers or leafy plants, which require constant watering and trimming, porch pots are a one-and-done thing, which is a godsend for anyone looking to keep things simple during the holidays.

When it comes to indoor arrangements, Gensler agrees with Burkholder. Green and natural are definitely in.

“Evergreen arrangements, both inside and outside, have gotten to be something we see a lot more,” Gensler says. “People are looking for a lot more for less this season.”

This holiday season, take the time to select decorations that make you happy and spark that festive cheer. Stick to tried and true traditions, but don’t be afraid to create new ones along the way. Most importantly, have fun.