So it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. There are snow flurries, everyone has a bright red nose like Rudolph and we’ve hauled the faux tree out of the storage loft and planned a soiree for later this week. Of course, the soiree is intended to encompass as many midwinter traditions as possible. I made a Sol Invictus candle and encouraged guests to bring Sandra Lee’s infamous Kwanzaa cake!
Even if our tree is currently a mishmash of the random stuff our families have put aside for us, I still have definite opinions about how to decorate a tree. Actually our current setup fits my personal aesthetic pretty well since Christmas decorating is all about kitsch and cheesiness and Ye Olden Tymes and awkwardly sincere cheer. And since this is my blog, I am going to tell you how to live your life. The rules to Christmas trees are as follows:
1. The more lights, the better. A mix of white and colorful lights is nice. White lights have to be included for the tree to look “classy.” If you’re going really classy, nix the colorful lights. You will note that our tree is less classy and more Kitschmas. When you have put literally all of the lights you own on the tree, stand back and squint. Or have someone across the room squint and direct you to the light-free parts of the tree so you can reposition lights so they’re more or less evenly distributed. This was a capital-P Process with our family tree, growing up. I used icicle lights on this tree, which is cheating.
2. Base layer. This includes things like tinsel, garland, and plain glass globe ornaments. Having an evenly distributed base is key to an even-looking tree, if you’re into that. My mom’s trick is to hang a metric ton of gold globes all over the tree before putting the rest of the ornaments on – they reflect light all over the place and tie the whole thing together. Our base layer is glass bead garland, fake icicles, and some red birds perched on branches.
3. Every ornament you own must go on the tree. If there are some you don’t love, put them around the sides… or the back. Or make a classy tree and a “kids tree” if you want something nice-looking where guests will see it and the family crap on a hidden shrub. Either way, cramming as much stuff as possible onto the tree will make it a lot better looking. As the years roll on and people keep gifting you with ornaments, you should be able to pack a tree no problem. And even if a particular ornament is aesthetically horrifying to you, it probably still holds sentimental value. I mean, you obviously didn’t buy it for yourself…?
4. Strategery. Put light-reflecting ornaments behind and below lights, so they can shine out from the depths of the tree. Put transparent glass ornaments right in front of lights so they can twinkle. Put delicate stars and angels towards the top, put huge felt reindeer and pinecone wreaths towards the bottom on the bigger branches. Don’t have clumps of like ornaments – try to space out the clothespin nutcrackers. Unless you’re me as a child and have to make all the horse-themed ornaments form an orderly parade around the midsection of the tree.
While I was assembling the Kitschmas tree, N. was busy decking the windows with plastic shrink film. We have several windows that are severely old and leaky, so during the cold months we winterize them. I got to zap the film with a blowdryer – actually a blowdryer we bought specifically for this purpose two winters ago. Used, $1. Worth all 100 pennies.
Meanwhile, K. was catching up on bookkeeping – he does the books for the household and the furniture business. I am very fortunate to be able to exploit his bookkeeping, ability to do mental math, and capacity for rational thought. He most likely considers himself fortunate to be constantly in the presence of a person who boasts such talents as relentless whimsical thinking, outrageously dumb puns, and banging into doorframes while walking through them. And who has notions about how to deck a Christmas tree and make seasonally appropriate toasty beverages.
Even though I am an old curmudgeon in the body of a 26 year old, I am a hopeless romantic when it comes to stuff like holiday tradition and so besides enforcing holiday music on all present last evening (Bob Dylan > Elvis Presley > Dolly Parton > Frank Sinatra, in terms of Christmas albums anyway) I put together a pitcher of hot mulled punch and we toasted the season and each hung an ornament on the tree. And then the rest of the tree got decorated, windows got sealed, and sales tax got calculated. Another evening at the ranch.
Tastes like delicious holiday cheer. Toasty because it’s hot AND you can toast with it, get it? GET IT? Can easily be scaled up. Quantities and directions are approximate, it’s hard to screw this type of thing up too bad. See mulled wine recipe for inspiration.
Mix a cup of sugar and two cups of water in small saucepan over medium heat; gently boil with mulling spices (cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, anise, black pepper, orange peel) for five minutes. Strain into insulated pitcher. Add one cup of orange juice, small novelty bottle of Champagne from someone’s 1991 wedding, and a generous splash of rye whiskey. Serve out of mismatched coffee mugs, probably.