Dreaming of a tree-mendous Christmas: how to set up your spruce

With Kathryn Thomas saying her dogs and child are constantly pulling decorations off the tree, here's Esther N McCarthy's guide to troubleshooting your tree this Christmas
Dreaming of a tree-mendous Christmas: how to set up your spruce

Childproofing your tree could make your Christmas less stressful.

Home Alone has a lot to answer for. There we were, in 1990, agog at the concept of pizza delivered to the door and guards calling to check if you were safe for ‘the holidays’. The McCallister’s had a massive house with stairs wide enough to sledge down, poinsettias everywhere, a wreath for the palatial front door and a real fir tree with twinkling lights and sophisticated ornaments. 

I remember glancing from the (tiny) telly to our wonky, ancient, sad-looking tree, strewn with scrawny tinsel and the same 10 red baubles we’d had since before I was born, and realisubg the true meaning of Christmas. Not family or any of that crap. A massive movie tree.

Fast forward 31 years (Gah! How did that happen?) and we can have any type of tree we want. You can get Balsam Firs or pre-lit, pre-snow-dusted fakies, you can buy ones with berries and cones and decorations. Rainbow tree? No problem! You can even get a corner tree, it’s like a half tree you back right up to the wall to save space - and I spotted a horizontal half tree too that has no branches at the bottom, but it looked really weird, like a tree stork or something.

But if you have young kids or pets in the house, you might want to think about how to make this Christmas season A&E-free.

We should probably take a moment to acknowledge the fact that plonking a tree (that our kids are used to seeing OUTDOORS) in the corner of the living room and then covering it in shiny, electric, breakable, twinkly things, then telling our kids that this amazing imposter will have presents under it - and not expect them to maul it in fascination is asking for a Christmas miracle from the start. 

Kids are like puppies, chefs and Goblin sharks - they put everything in their gob. Just accept it and move on.

So let’s make it easier on our little people - think about fake trees instead of real - at least the potential for having to extract pine needles from your toddler’s throat is minimal - plus my hoover packed up one Christmas and I swear it was the damn pine needles fault.

You could do an alternative one - we make one out of wood (the royal we, I obviously mean my serf husband) people use all sorts to get the general shape, we used the old flooring from our local GAA sports hall. But you can try bits of sticks, twigs, 2x4s, or try stickers on a wall, or lights set up on the wall to make a tree shape. 

You can use felt or homemade decorations, paper, cardboard whatever you have. I've seen upside-down trees, trees on ladders, lots of little trees up out of harm's way - you can be creative, it’s your Christmas, do what’s right for your family at this time. 

I have a little real pine plant I got as a present and I potted it outside and it gets a bit bigger every year and I use it as a mini tree for the hall. It's ticking the eco-friendly box too. Can you smell the smug?

If you’re using a real tree, like freshly cut flowers, or a gasping jellyfish, get it in water fast, use fresh water and the more you can give it the better, it will last way longer. The tree should have a supply of about one litre of water per inch of thickness of the trunk, and fill it up when needed.

Protect it from extreme heat, keep it away from direct sunlight and away from the fire or rads, if you can.

If you have pets in the house, don’t forget to keep them safe. Our three-legged cat loves hiding in between the branches and trying to climb them - no matter what kind of tree we have. Pines aren’t toxic for cats or dogs, but they can cause mouth irritation and tummy issues, so keep on top of the shedding. 

Be careful about the water in the tree reservoir, there could be chemical or other yukky stuff floating around that would make your pet sick, barricade them away from it if you can.

Dos and Don'ts 

DO

  • Anchor it proper so no chance of it falling even if it’s tugged to death - tie to the wall, or ceiling or weight it down (use a bog-standard brick in a box, it doesn’t have to be expensive).
  • Keep everything out of toddler’s grasp, get down on the ground yourself, see everything from your child’s perspective.
  • Put a barrier around it - it could be a baby gate you have already, or borrow one, you’ll see lots of cute indoor picket white fencing on Pintrest, or just shove a bit of furniture that’s already in the room up to it, couple of toy boxes or a chair on it’s side - don’t spend money anyway, it’ll be gone before you know it.
  • One word - decoy! Distraction is key in most situations with kids so create a place where they can play with pretend presents and kid-friendly decorations, wrap up a couple of cereal boxes put a couple of bells inside (make sure it’s v securely wrapped!!) and get some soft red and green balls and put them around the end of the tree and them at them - they’ll get bored soon, you know they will.
  • Put bells everywhere on the tree, it’ll be like a warning signal. If only I could make my inlaws wear them - kidding!

DON'T

  • Put tinsel or lights or anything they could wrap around their little necks anywhere at the bottom of the tree.
  • Use your expensive gorgeous heirloom decorations. Find babyproof, sturdy ones, or just forget them this year, do lovely bows up high on the tree, it’ll still look great.
  • Try and do it yourself. You’re a parent, you know this - GET YOUR KID INVOLVED. They will be a million times more likely not to wreak it if they’re invested in it. So what if it looks rubbish? Get over it. You live in Ireland, remember, and you don't live in the McCallister’s. You'd want to be dealing with that tarantula anyway?

What are the top Christmas tree trends this year?

Pretty Pastels, think baby blues and soft pinks
Pretty Pastels, think baby blues and soft pinks

Quick tip - just do one trend and do one that feels right for you. Don’t be under pressure from the Instagrams and social media stuff, you have to be comfortable with what you’ve chosen.

My top three favourites for 2021 are:

Pretty Pastels 

Think baby blues and soft pinks and retro and vintage, it’s whimsical without being too vomit-inducing.

Au natural: think Scandi, beige but in a good way, natural foliage, lots of upcycling and sustainable bits.
Au natural: think Scandi, beige but in a good way, natural foliage, lots of upcycling and sustainable bits.

All natural 

I love this one because I have a feeling I can just dump a bunch of pine cones in a vase and say I’m creating an eco conscious Christmas - so think Scandi, beige but in a good way, natural foliage, lots of upcycling and sustainable bits.

Massive Metallics: Think gold and silver everywhere, layer the hell out of it and add twinkles wherever you can.
Massive Metallics: Think gold and silver everywhere, layer the hell out of it and add twinkles wherever you can.

Massive metallics

I feel like I’ve been talking about metallics as a trend for years at this point - and they’re going nowhere for Christmas. Think gold and silver everywhere, layer the hell out of it and add twinkles wherever you can.

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