Published Nov 2019

The great debate is in full swing this year: When is it too early to decorate for Christmas? Last year, Thanksgiving was the earliest date possible, as November 1 fell on a Thursday (Thanksgiving is always the fourth Thursday in November). This year, with November 1 falling on a Friday, Thanksgiving is the latest it possibly can be. Thus, this year there is one less week between Thanksgiving and Christmas than there was just last year. And, decorating for Christmas can be a big task … between wreaths and trees and mailbox decor and even, for some, the complete swapping out of dishes and pillows and, and, and … so, with Thanksgiving so late this year, more people than ever before are caving in and decorating early.

I’m included in that early batch as I’ve put up my tree already. I’m sorry, Mom. I know you raised me to know that decorating for Christmas before Thanksgiving is just tacky. Thanksgiving deserves its own due and is not to be diluted by Christmas. I was raised to know that a Christmas sweater at the Thanksgiving dinner table meant you would be talked about later … when you are not around. Because if we said something in front of you, that would be tackier than the Christmas sweater worn at the Thanksgiving dinner table. But, rules change and people evolve, and I’ve got to say, my Christmas tree looks mighty pretty this mid-November morning. Waking up early to drink my coffee next to its glowing lights makes my day start that much brighter.

Christmas tree with Hydrangea

Up close, this tree looks real. Yes, it’s a Balsam Hill, which means it should, but the added layers of hydrangeas, different leaf textures from the eucalyptus, the cotton and the berries all create an overlook that makes your tree just pop, and no one will think that it’s a fake. The key is also to fluff, fluff, fluff your tree as you put it up, which gives it a more realistic look.

Yes, more people are decorating early now. Or, at least putting up a tree and then taking the decorating from there, one day or weekend at a time. For those of you putting up a tree, no matter when on the calendar that happens, I wanted to share my favorite thing that I add to my tree each year: hydrangeas. You see, I have two enormous limelight hydrangeas at my house and three others at our family mountain cabin in Balsam, North Carolina. I try to cut a huge bunch of blooms each fall, before it freezes, so that I can use them on my Christmas tree. Sometimes I forget to cut them until after the first freeze and I just use them anyway, even though they are completely brown at that point. They are still lovely and beautiful on a tree (and if you are a DIYer, you can spray paint those brown hydrangeas with gold or silver spray paint).

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Paper bag of Hydrangea

I know many enjoy hydrangeas as a favorite flower, so why not dry them and use them for your Christmas tree? To dry the limelights, simply cut them on their long stalks and place them in a large vase (or a brown bag like I did here). That’s it. They will dry in place. Other hydrangeas don’t dry as well, but some varieties do. I usually cut mine to have about a 30-inch stem.

When the tree goes up, the first thing to do is add the lights, unless you have a fake pre-lit tree, which I succumbed to last year. Again, I have become the person I was raised not to be. A fake tree??? Yep. It’s okay. Jesus still loves me.

Once the lights are on, the next thing to do is to add all the big, dried hydrangea blooms. When I had a real tree, I started with the biggest holes in the tree that needed filling and went from there. Keep stepping back and making sure your blooms are evenly distributed. I also always make sure to cut off some smaller blooms for the top of the tree and to balance some of the bigger blooms. (For those unfamiliar with limelight hydrangeas, their blooms can be bigger than your head.).

Fake Christmas tree that looks real

With the early morning light and the big dried hydrangeas, my tree just makes me happy even if it is the middle of November.

After the hydrangea blooms are placed around the tree, I add red berry sprays. These are typically available at your big box craft stores. But, I find great ones at local garden centers that carry Christmas decor as well, and Flower Mart is my go-to spot in Nashville.

After this, I have garland made from white felted balls that I got years ago at West Elm. But, I found some similar garland here.

My next step is to add something … and that something changes year to year. Some years it’s cotton, other years it’s eucalyptus, other years it’s faux holly or magnolia. Since my tree is now fake, the added texture makes it really hard to know that it’s not real. It’s just pretty.

Once all of this is on the tree, it’s time for the ornaments. And, for us, since we’ve put up the tree so dang early, we can enjoy it in this more natural state for a week or so before we load it down with ornaments. And, goodness, we have so many ornaments. My dad used to send us at least a dozen each year. Some people may go for the minimalist look for their tree, but our tree is layered with so many loving memories that I think “maximalist” is the right term! Each ornament has a story, and we laugh and cry as we decorate it each year. We listen to Christmas music, we bake chocolate chip cookies … and just in case this Norman Rockwell picture is touching you too much (or making you too queasy), just know that after about an hour of sweetness, I’m usually decorating the tree solo. And, that’s okay. I like my time with the tree and my memories.

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All this to say, the hydrangeas, the berry sprays, the garland, the cotton … these are just added texture to the canvas that each year becomes a showcase to our lives — Christmas ornaments made when I was in first grade and when my kids were in mother’s day out. I’ve made my husband’s and kids’ baby shoes into ornaments, my high school graduation tassel is now an ornament, a teacup I inherited from my great grandmother is also an ornament. The ornaments my husband and I have bought together on all our trips. All the ornaments my dad sent …

A pretty Christmas tree with a yellow lab

My tree is just waiting for the ornaments, but it’s filled with dried hydrangeas, berry sprays, cotton and garland. And, yellow labs on green velvet chairs help set the mood as well.

When it’s all decorated, I sit back with a glass of wine and toast to the blessings of life, to the people I miss dearly and things yet to come. And, somehow, those hydrangeas — which make me smile in the summer and change colors in the fall and are now dried on my tree — help me look back on my year with a further connection. They help bring it all together. And, gosh they are pretty.

If you are the Christmas-celebrating sort of person, put up your tree on your own timeline, no matter what that is, and let it fill you with the wonder and joy of the season.

Give me a few years, and I just may be wearing a Christmas sweater at the Thanksgiving table … which likely will have a centerpiece made with dried limelight hydrangeas from my garden.

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10 DIY Christmas ornaments filled with memories

Here are 10 great ideas to fill your tree with sentimental mementos that will warm your heart. Click here to see these.