December 17, 2009

Homemade Christmas Tree for the Budget-Minded


There is something intrinsically magical about a Christmas tree. Maybe it’s how out of place it is, a forest figure transplanted into your living room, carrying on its branches whispers of moss and gnomes. As a girl, I brought my My Little Ponies downstairs and hid behind the tree to play. Lighted boughs were a richer backdrop to the drama of a pegasus than the brown carpet in my bedroom. And the times we’ve carried a tree home to our apartment in Brooklyn and strung it with lights, the magic happened when we could sit on the couch, quiet with a glass of wine in hand and a Christmas record on the turntable and feel as transfixed as if we had a new fireplace in the living room. The tree cast a bit of majesty, and in its presence we could just be.

We didn’t get a tree this year. The prices seem to creep skyward each year, and we could use $40 on something else. But I couldn’t help but wonder if not having a tree was affecting my holiday spirit. Channeling Maria’s curtain playclothes ingenuity, I decided to try to make a tree substitute. Besides, I told myself, isn’t it really the lights that make us most happy?

Last night, after watching Anne of Green Gables and cutting pretty things out from magazines, I finally felt the holiday spirit take hold. Setting out to make this glowing creation sealed the deal.

A nearby florist was selling bunches of white branches for $2 each, but you could just as easily grab some free fallen branches at a local park (and spray paint them white, if you’re so inclined). I put the branches in a vase anchored with lots of spare change and then twisted the lights all around. Easy as pie.

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  • Suzy: Magical! But where did you hide the cords? That’s what I really want to know.

    I agree–it’s more the lights than their receptacle that matters. We had to go artificial two years ago (I became allergic), and though we got such a real-looking fake tree you can’t tell it’s fake until your nose is in it, I think the appeal is far more in the lights and decorations. We got one of those frasier fir-scented candles from Thymes and voila, we hardly miss the real thing.8 years ago

  • Haha…well there’s a bit of photo trickery going on on that front. I just placed the arrangement as close as possible to an outlet and had a strand going off in that direction. It would have looked best on the floor, I think, or somewhere where the cord could stretch to the outlet from behind the arrangement (if that makes sense). Oooh, and a fir scented candle is maybe just what I need to complete the illusion. Good idea!8 years ago

  • Brianna: I like this idea. It seems more magical than having a tree…plus, pine needles can be annoying.8 years ago

  • Karen: Beautiful! Enjoy the holidays with your lovely “tree”!8 years ago

  • Brianne, True, pine needles CAN be annoying!

    Karen, Thank you! I’m ready to make some hot chocolate and just sit in front of it tonight!8 years ago

  • vanessa: a little anne shirley never hurts 🙂

    love the tree!8 years ago

  • Casey@Good. Food. Stories.: Ha! I used to do the same thing with My Little Ponies too. Now the cats get full rein of the under-tree area – even to the exclusion of presents.8 years ago

  • Julia (Color Me Green): so smart. i like it!8 years ago

  • Serita: Oh Sarah, I love it! I’ll have to send you a photo of our ‘Christmas tree’… For money reasons and also because we just feel bad having a cut-down tree, instead we decorated our indoor palm tree with cutout paper snowflakes and made a stand around the base out of a cardboard box draped with fabric. So satisfying both to create our own holiday spirit and to some small degree, not play in to the consumer aspect of the holidays!8 years ago

  • Vanessa, I am learning that Anne Shirley cures many ailments and for this reason I am going to buy the dvd set and keep it in the medicine cabinet. 🙂

    Casey, Wasn’t that the funnest? I think sometimes my She-Ra joined it too.

    Julia, Thank you — and so EASY.

    Serita, You’re a genius. I love that you decorated your palm tree. Very Dr. Jacoby. And a good point about it not playing into the consumer aspect of the holidays. In my effort to be a spendthrift I didn’t even consider that I was tapping into the true meaning of Christmas!8 years ago

  • Alicia Kachmar: Love it!!! Did you see my $0 Charlie Brown Christmas Tree complete with crochet ornament?? years ago

  • Brooke: My grandmother used to make exactly this sort of tree in her home in Arizona. She felt a pine tree looked out of place in the desert, and even though it seemed shocking the first time we visited her at Christmastime and she didn’t have a green tree, I still remember what a beautiful tree it was and how each of her ornaments stood out against the silvery branches and white lights. Traditions are beautiful, but so are new interpretations of them.8 years ago

  • Katherine: What a genius idea! My fiance and I have been searching for a kaffir lime to use a Christmas tree and then move outside after Christmas (and use the leaves for Thai cooking). But we haven’t been able to find one yet, and the nurseries we’ve been checking say they won’t get more in until spring. This is our first year not being at a family’s house for Christmas day (we’re going to my family’s a few days later), so I feel like we should have some kind of tree. This is the perfect “green” and wallet-friendly solution.8 years ago

  • Adrianna: Funny you should say Anne Shirley cures many ailments. As a kid I would watch Anne whenever I was home sick from school and it always made me feel better. If you haven’t already seen it, go borrow or rent the sequel, Anne of Avonlea. It’s every bit as wonderful.8 years ago

  • Victoria: I’m so enviousI couldn’t join you for a perfect-sounding afternoon!
    The stress and the going out of town usually means for me that I do many of the traditions after the actual holiday, which works out nicely since early January could definitely use an injection of festiveness, I find. If Christmas cards inevitably become New Year’s cards, why not a New Year’s tree? I like the more holiday-neutral shape, and you can leave it up, even in a mixed-holiday household!
    P.S. I just e-mailed my Grandma to ask the name of this children’s book she read to us, about a family with a too-tall Christmas tree who had to cut the top off, then another family of some kind of animal picked it up and made it their tree, but it was too tall so they cut the top off and so on until these little mice have this tiny twig as their tree…. Yours kind of reminds me of the, like, rabbit family’s tree or something.8 years ago

  • Erin: Thank you for this idea, Sarah. We debated over getting a tree this year and my usually-grinchy husband wanted one, so I agreed. But, next year we are definitely trying this idea!

    Warmest wishes for a bright and jolly holiday!8 years ago

  • Victoria Haynes: Mr Willoughby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry. In case you were wondering.8 years ago

  • love,gidget: Beautiful!8 years ago

  • Deelish Dish: So pretty! We didn’t get a tree this year either for the same reasons but we sassied up a mini plastic one by the door and it works for my spirit too. It also reminds me of the 80 bucks I saved and the heat I still get to turn on….8 years ago

  • Katie: Just found your blog when looking for a refrigerator-rising sweet roll dough because I wasn’t able to do our orange iced rolls the regular way this year. (Turned out great — thanks!) Anyway, I wanted to say that my grandma lives in MT, and she makes a tumbleweed tree. I was skeptical, but I have to admit that it looked pretty cool. I think one year she even spray-painted it silver.8 years ago

  • A Simple Christmas « Pink of Perfection: […] It does not escape me that three years ago, we couldn’t afford a tree. […]5 years ago

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