Make an ode to Christmas with garlands spread in the right places

December 11, 2009|By CHRISTINE BRUN / Creators Syndicate

Given all that has transpired in the past year, there will be an extra challenge this Christmas when trying to create the seasonal feelings of expectation and cheer that we love. I fear that, for many families, the extra decorations and delicious foods normally abundant for Christmas and New Year will be noticeably missing and the mood might be closer to a Dickens novel than what we have grown used to in recent years.

Today, I had a stern talk with myself about getting down the Christmas lights for the outside and creating a celebratory feeling in the neighborhood. Maybe it is even more important that we all make a decided effort to celebrate when so many things are looking down. So in the spirit of the season, let's look at some simplified ways of decorating that might be at once both more economical and space saving.

While a tall fresh tree is just wonderful, not everyone has the spare room for a 6- or 7-foot tree. The last year that I bought a 9-foot tree it cost me $160 plus a delivery fee, and I decided that after that year, I wouldn't spend that much on a live tree again. So I broke down and bought an artificial tree a few years ago and, although it cost about $150, it has paid for itself several times over by now. If you really don't have room for the full tree, you can buy a tiny 3-foot version or try alternative evergreen garlands such as the pre-lit artificial garland shown here.


With such a flexible garland, you might adorn your mantel or the handrail of a staircase instead of allocating a sizable corner of your room to a tree. The best part of investing in a quality garland or artificial tree and keeping it year to year is that you don't have to venture out in nasty weather to buy anything, and in fact, decorating then becomes the perfect project for a rainy or snowy day!

I use garlands like this one on my Chinese elm wood buffet, on the top of a French antique china cabinet and on the mantel. You might also consider garlands on the top of kitchen cabinets or over the mirrors in the bathroom. Hang garlands over interior passage doors inside your home and create a seasonal celebration throughout.

If you are not comfortable using artificial greenery, take a drive through your neighborhood and notice local shrubs. See if there are any magnolia, laurel or cypress around that you might appropriate for your own live garlands. If you are to buy a live boxwood garland, it will cost you about $70, but perhaps a neighbor will allow you to prune a bush if you ask. You can use just about anything that is available and dress the foliage up with pinecones, seedpods and ornaments.

Pre-lit decorations that can be hung in the front windows are another substitute for a bulky tree. You can find stars, peace signs and the Star of David, along with snowflakes and bows. Of course, traditional wreaths on the front door are always popular. You can save money by buying a plain evergreen wreath and decorating it yourself. It is quite easy to wire small pinecones and colorful ornaments to a fresh wreath. Keep it simple.

Votive candles are another very inexpensive but delicious way to create an instant mood for an evening party or family gathering. You can buy the votives in bulk at a floral supply or hobby store. It is the repetition of the little lights that is so dreamy, but be very aware that you must extinguish all of the candles before retiring! That said, you just cannot have too many flickering candles on a cold night to establish a lovely, calm mood. When you sit the votives in between the branches of your garlands that adorn the mantel or a furniture piece, it is pure magic.

There are many battery-operated decorations available also, such as evergreens designed to fit on the mailbox at the curb or candles designed to sit in each window that faces the street.

Christine Brun, ASID, is a San Diego-based interior designer and the author of "Small Space Living." Send questions and comments to her by e-mail at

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