Deck the halls for the long haul

Debora Robertson
·7-min read
Whether it’s tasteful or not, get those decs up and spread a bit of festive cheer
Whether it’s tasteful or not, get those decs up and spread a bit of festive cheer

It used to be the smarter you were, the later you put up your Christmas tree. While the chic set might have shared on social media the garish pictures of trees going up around their neighbourhoods in – hold the phone, you are not going to believe this – November, this clearly was not the done thing, but honestly, how adorable.

Traditionally, the closer you got to Christmas Eve before erecting your own (Nordmann) fir, the more smart points you earned. If the turkey was going into the oven just as you put on the last hand-blown glass bauble, you were practically the Queen. Also, essentially, decorations were of the so-tasteful-you-barely-notice variety, made by an Amish person from scraps of spruce.

But – let joy, please God, be unconfined – not this year. You’ve probably noticed that, in 2020, trees are already going up everywhere, and the twinkle of fairy lights is as likely to adorn a Farrow & Ball Downpipe Grey house as a block of flats. Santa Stop Here signs are already sitting outside the sort of homes that might usually shun Lapland for Liberty. After the year we’ve all had, is it a surprise that the middle classes are all, at long last, ho-ho-homing along?

This weekend is likely to see even more of us rushing out to pick up our trees, lights and decorations, even though we aren’t even in December yet. Obviously, this is a completely wonderful and entirely emotionally necessary thing, but we need to keep it all looking good for a month at least, even longer if, like me, you are suspicious about taking everything down before Twelfth Night. (Who are those deniers of joy who whip every last scrap down a second after Boxing Day?) Here’s how to deck the halls for the long haul…

Firs things first

If you’re buying a real tree this year, you need to make sure it won’t shed every single needle before Christmas Eve - Alamy
If you’re buying a real tree this year, you need to make sure it won’t shed every single needle before Christmas Eve - Alamy

If you’re buying your tree a bit early, you need to make sure it’s going to last – and that you won’t need to panic-buy a second one come Christmas week. Run your hands along a couple of branches to ensure they are supple and springy, and that a shower of needles doesn’t fall off. The seller should cut a chunk off the bottom for you so dried resin doesn’t impede water getting to the branches, and if you have the means and strength, cut another 5cm or so off the bottom when you get it home.

Put the tree immediately in a bucket of water as you arrange its new home. You want a stand with a water reservoir in the bottom that holds a good litre or so, and remember to top it up every couple of days. If possible, place your new fir-y friend in the coolest part of the room, well away from radiators. This should give it the very best chance of lasting for several weeks without looking like a fire hazard – not what you want to sit staring out when you’re stuck in the house.

We always put a huge tree in the bay window of our house, where it feels like we are sharing it with the street, but this year I might put a smaller one in the kitchen, and perhaps an even smaller one in my office, too. This is truly the more is more Christmas where anything goes – especially when working from home. Speaking of which, could this year possibly see the death of the themed, curated tree, the exhaustingly-tasteful Kelly-Hoppenised ones that look like they were nicked from a mid-range hotel lobby? I do hope so. Bring on the tinsel, string on the lametta, go mad with the glittery balls – in a year of restraint and self-discipline, the time for excess is now.  

We’ll wreath again

Most years, I buy a plain wreath from my local market and pixie it up with dried citrus, cinnamon sticks and pine cones, before wiring in whole satsumas and nuts. I douse it with essential oils (orange, clove, and yes, frankincense) so it smells even more like Christmas, and tie it to the front door with an extravagance of French wired silk ribbon (available from vvrouleaux.com).

Because it’s cold outside, this lasts for weeks and weeks without drying out – essential when you’re decorating the door even earlier this year – but you can always spritz with water. Less elaborate but utterly lovely front-door adornments can be created with the branches you have inevitably just cut off the top or bottom of the tree in a lockdown frenzy or last-minute gardening, or swathes of ivy pulled from the fence and tied up with ribbon, perhaps a few baubles added. If you want more sparkle, bauble and jingle bell wreaths are glorious and last for years – you could even try a rainbow theme as a nod to the NHS.  

Outdoors more is more

The house in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is the gold standard when it comes to outdoor decorations - Alamy
The house in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is the gold standard when it comes to outdoor decorations - Alamy

My absolutely favourite decorations, the ones without which festivities can’t possibly happen, are two enormous illuminated Christmas puddings, which I put on the front of my house each December. We live next to a bus stop and people often tell me they look forward to seeing them every year. They have even shown up on the Instagram feeds of those much younger, smarter and cooler than me.

What I am saying is, get that tat on your house. It cheers people up – and, this year, the neighbours would forgive you even if you went full National Lampoon (try lights4fun.co.uk for inspiration).

So put up your inflatable Santas, get those reindeer on the roof, fill the front garden with angels, leave no tree unfairylight’d, no porch or window unicicle’d, no fence ungarland’d. Deck the damn halls. All of them. You’ll be so glad you did.  

Advent antics

There are so many now, not just the tame sweetie-filled ones of old (or even older, not even a sweetie, just a picture of a sweetie). There are pampering beauty ones, booze ones, ones for pets, and even pork scratching ones. But in this year’s true spirit of Go Big And Stay Home, some streets are organising their own living advent calendars, where neighbours take turns to create a suitably festive display in their windows for each day. If you have the craft supplies left over from making all of those posters supporting the NHS in summer, why not?  

Oh come all ye edible

The classic gingerbread house – if you can’t face baking your own, you can buy them in kit form - Beata Becla
The classic gingerbread house – if you can’t face baking your own, you can buy them in kit form - Beata Becla

Of course, to keep one’s strength up for the long haul, Christmas decorations that are both beautiful and edible are exceptionally welcome right now. You can’t beat the design classic – gold chocolate coins – strewn on every surface and hung on the tree in little mesh bags (out of the reach of dogs, cats, and anyone who might be rude enough to eat them before you get to them). Candy canes are also surprisingly refreshing. You can even make them into a peppermint-based cocktail ingredient by infusing them in vodka.

I am also a big fan of the gingerbread house and if you can’t be bothered with too much faff, Waitrose supplies them in kit form for £5.95. In the almost-too-good-to-eat category, biscuiteers.com’s Lapland Luxe Biscuit tin contains beautifully iced Christmas trees, reindeer, penguins and snowmen – so you won’t be short of company through the Christmas month to come.

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