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Decorating the Tree

Martha Stewart Living Television

The Christmas tree is a holiday custom that engages our senses of sight, smell, and touch as well as our sense of tradition. A tree full of glistening lights and beautifully crafted ornaments heightens our sense of expectation and wonder on Christmas morning. It is also a time for the family to come together and create a magnificent holiday centerpiece. Martha's nieces Kristina and Sophie joined her to help decorate her tree.

Tree Lights
-Christmas lights are a modern, safer version of the candles that have decorated Christmas trees since the 1600s.
-The transition from candles to electrical lights began at the turn of the century, though some families continued to burn candles for decades to come, despite known fire hazards.
-Christmas tree lights come in various shapes and sizes, from clear stellar refractors to bright red and green chile peppers.
-The first electric Christmas lights appeared just three years after Thomas Edison invented the light bulb.
-In 1882, the first electrically lit tree was put up in New York City. It was decorated with small, round red, white, and blue bulbs.
-In the early 1900s, elaborate figural glass lights were imported from Germany. They were blown from clear glass and delicately painted by hand. There were Christmas lights shaped like animals, Punch and Judy characters, Uncle Sam, nursery rhyme characters, Humpty Dumpty, etc.
-The Japanese started to make figurative Christmas lights from milk glass in the 1920s. They depicted all kinds of whimsical characters. The Japanese lights were inexpensive and thus were often discarded when they burned out.

Ornaments
-There are three types of wooden ornaments: wood-stained, "cookie," and silver leaf.
-"Martha by Mail" Silvery Metal Icicles (tin twists, small and large wire spirals): Icicles fashioned out of tinned iron were a popular Christmas decoration in Victorian times. Our modern versions bring sparkle and grace to the tree.
-In the late 19th century, before commercially made Christmas ornaments were widely available, many people decorated their trees with elaborate homemade ornaments.
-Manufactured ornaments began to appear in the mid-1800s. Most of them were made in Germany by toymakers from the city of Nuremberg and appeared in the U.S. between 1870 and 1890.

Ornament Hooks
-You can make your own to match the ornament using ribbons, beads, silver cord, and whatever else might complement your ornament.
-Christmas tree hooks, to hang ornaments from, were invented in 1892.

"Elf Shelf"
-Empty space between the branches where you can rest a small, wrapped gift for Santa's elf.

Star Tree Topper
-The tree isn't truly finished until the topper is in place.
-The star has always been an important tree topper, symbolizing the star of Bethlehem, which led the magi to the Christ child. Like that star, the three-dimensional glitter star we've created shines in all directions.

Tree Skirt
-Plaid, square, wool blanket, which is made from remnant stockings

Comments (2)

  • 31 Dec, 2008

    My sister, a professional florist, often uses this effect and achieves it by using holiday florist picks; you can find them at the local craft stores. These contain small
    faux greenery and 2/3 bulbs each. They set between branches.She also uses them for family package toppers, backed with wired ribbon. in our individual palettes. I set mine like corsages in the tree for a really full effect.

  • 26 Nov, 2007

    I've seen trees trimmed with clusters of glass globes (3-4) fastened together.
    Can you explain an easy way to do this?