Christmas Lights/Decorations

Themed Christmas designed with style

Red, orange and beige Christmas wreath on a door

Sophie’s Christmas wreath from 2016

Christmas tree day!

Years ago, my flatmate and I gave the first of December the unofficial title of “Christmas Tree Day” and the name has stuck.  It’s the day I give myself permission to decorate my home for the Christmas season, although I have been planning my tree and decorations for a while beforehand.

I like to purchase additional ornaments every year to build on my collection of decorations that are laden with memories (is there anything more precious than your baby’s first Christmas bauble?), but as an interior designer, I like to have a general idea of what my tree will look with the expectation that my children will add their home made flourishes for which I’m lucky I don’t suffer from *P.O.P.D.!  This year my tree is planned to be in peacock tones.

Apart from the decorated tree, I also like to bring in some Christmas cheer by decorating my entry table and dining table with an arrangement that ties in to the theme of the tree.

While the Christmas tree is beautiful, nothing is more welcoming than decorating the front door with a homemade garland.

close up of red and orange Christmas tree decorations

A close up of Sophie’s 2016 Christmas tree decorations

Decorating tips…

My best tip for decorating your home for Christmas is to choose a colour combination for your decorations and carry the colours from front door, entry, dining table and tree. The steady colour palette makes for a comfortable transition from room to room.

Personally, I like the rule of 3. This means you use three colours – a main colour that is about 60% of the decoration, a secondary colour for 30% and a final colour to make up the balance as a sharp contrast.

Australian flowers as a Christmas table centrepiece

A beautiful Aussie-themed Christmas table decoration from Sophie’s home in 2016

 

This article and associated photos were kindly provided by Sophie Kost, lead designer at My Beautiful Abode.

*Perfect Ornament Placement Disorder

Another scouting Christmas tree idea!

Following on from the Christmas tree festival ideas and the tent-based Christmas tree, I found another effective tree decorating idea.

CHristmas tree with decorations and scout signs

Clare (Scout Leader), Adam (Explorer Leader) and Laura (Beavers Leader) set this up at 5th Littlehampton Sea Scout Group’s hall this year.

Apparently some leaders were very keen to get a tree up, even though it was still November – they suffer the terrible affliction of pre-festivitis!

They normally have a “look what we do” board at the entrance to their Scout Hall, but there was no space for it and a tree, so they combined the two.

I like how simple it is – a few signs that share who the group is, a few decorations and some tinsel and the tree is done!

I think this concept is simple enough to be used by other scout and youth groups, plus many other places. Would you use it to add Christmas cheer to a public place or group?

 

* Photo used with permission of Laura, with thanks!

A scouting Christmas tree

I came across this unusual Christmas tree and fell I love with the idea of it 🙂

Christmas tree formed from a green canvas tent

There’s so much to enjoy about a tent-based Christmas tree!

Basically, for Christmas 2016, a scout group hung up a green Auto tent to form a flowing tree shape and then decorated it! And used decorations hand made by the children in the scout group 🙂

Rebecca Goodson, Group Leader for that scout troop, explained their tree:

paper decorations on a scout tent Christmas tree

Personalised decorations with meaning to the scouts are part of this tree’s charm.

 

Very proud of our ‘tree’ for our local Church Christmas tree festival. Our tree was titled “Oh what a year” and depicted the main events and activities the Beavers, Cubs, Scouts and Explorers took part in during 2016. We used a traditional (and very old) Canvas patrol tent – visitors to the week’s events were impressed with the authentic Scout Hut fragrance!!! We have a wooden Scout Hut that is in its 92nd year so it’s a little cold and damp. The idea for this year’s Tree was my husband’s idea and we are already planning next year’s.

I love this tree because

  • it totally suits the group assembling the tree (ie a tent is ideal for scouts!)
  • it makes use of something they already had (ie no need to buy a tree)
  • it can be used for other purposes (in this case, camping!) throughout the year so it is not just taking up storage space for 11 months of  the year
  • it is unique and completely personalised
  • it is very environmentally friendly
  • it is unexpected and lots of fun!
 
* Images and idea used with permission of Rebecca Goodson (UK Scout Group Leader)

The Magic of Christmas in Central Australia

While Christmas tree festivals may not be well known in much of Australia, guides in Alice Springs ran a community Christmas event between 1996 and 2001.

One of the founders of this event, Karen Byrne, was kind enough to share the following article and photos…

The Magic of Christmas building in Alice Springs

How it began

Written by Margaret Rudwick for Guiding in Australia, March 1997.

Karen Byrne and Sue Ride sat relaxing outside a local church one afternoon, guarding the white balloons they had just blown up, each with a paper dove attached, ready for the annual Peace Day service.

It occurred to them that there were a number of community–wide activities run each year by local organisations, but Guides in Alice Springs did not have one. And so a crazy idea occurred to them – why not do something special for the people of Alice Springs, and in doing so, put Guiding on the annual calendar?

“Crazy,“ says Sue “because we should have known what we were letting ourselves in for!”

“I’d always had an idea we could do something at the Guide Hall for families, something affordable,” says Karen, “and as no–one else in town had a major Christmas activity it seemed just the thing to do.”

And so the Magic of Christmas was born.

Planning the Magic of Christmas

Plans were made, and not on a small scale!

The whole of the Guide Hall was to be decorated, a dozen or so distinct displays set up, and local families encouraged to come and share together the Magic of Christmas.

Local suppliers were generous with their donations and not one knock–back was received in a whole day of canvassing the town, although there was some confusion over the collectors’ enthusiasm for “rubbish” in the form of polystyrene sheets & boxes!

The Trefoil Guild donated $500 which was the only cash received and enabled the purchase of the crepe paper (yes, we used a lot of crepe paper!) The Support Group provided the bags of sweets for Father Christmas to give out. Members of both these groups gave of their time and skills throughout the opening hours, adding to the Magic for all the visitors.

About two weeks before opening day, the real work started.
The Magic of Christmas door, complete with gingerbread man

The making of the Magic of Christmas

All four interior walls of the hall were to be lined with red, white and green crepe paper – this had to be double thickness to hide the murals on the walls. Now the hall is quiet a reasonable size so this is no mean feat! Although a large quantity had been special ordered there never seemed to be enough so Sue’s mother, Joan Higgins, was kept busy scouring the town for more. One of the complicating things was that different brands came in different shades so acquiring just what  was wanted was really difficult.

“Kilometres of crepe paper,” groans Joan.

“Have you ever covered a hall in crepe paper?” asks Karen. “You get it up nice and firmly, and then you go home for the night.”

“But, horror of horrors,” Sue adds, “when you walk in next morning all the even, straight paper you left the night before has sagged and gone all crinkly overnight. It took us a while to realise it was just the unseasonable humidity. By mid morning, it would be dried out and look fine again.”

“Even though it happened each night we still worried about it each morning,” says Karen.

Once the crepe paper was up – and there are stories of ladders, and chairs on tables and other indescribable ways of doing the job – the setting up of displays could start.

A false front made the hall look like a little red Christmas house complete with a letter box for posting letters to Father Christmas – all of which were answered. Inside, the focal point was to be Father Christmas at the far end.

Christmas displays

From the entrance and down each side were almost a dozen separate themes including:

  • A two meter high advent calendar. One visitor each day was lucky enough to open a window on it which revealed a different Christmas scene;
  • A trading table which sold small Christmas items suitable as children’s gifts to family and friends.
  • Stained glass window – all the windows were transformed into the Three Wise Men, Candles or Bells created with cellophane and black cardboard.
  • An Australian Christmas theme, complete with native tree, a swag, native birds, all under the Southern Cross.
  • A Guide corner where there was a large red Christmas tree on which there was a photo of every single guide and leader in Alice Springs. Every girl bringing her family could point out her photo and those of her friends. Christmas tree made of a collage of photos
  • A section showing Christmas traditions from overseas countries including England, Scotland, Mexico, Italy and France.
  • A snow scene with a snowman and a beautiful free standing reindeer.
  • A traditional tree with 24 gifts in a sleigh beside it. One lucky child each day was able to open one of these.
  • A teddy bear’s corner with a small competition.

Devonshire tea and coffee was supplied by the trefoil Guild, and they also ran a small raffle. There were treats for the children there, too.

There was a children’s play area with games, a video and a train set for the young ones who did not need (want!) to spend so much time looking at the details.  In fact, not a part of the Guide Hall was left undecorated – streamers, snowflakes and stars covered the ceiling and angles, and novelty trees, lanterns and candles added to the magic in corners and on the floor. Glitter covered the carpet.

Sue and Karen are adamant it was well worth it. “Our families didn’t see us at home very much for a couple of weeks,” says Karen, “but they came along and helped us!”

“And help us they did – we would never have done it without their fantastic support,” adds Sue. “And not just by helping us to put up the displays either. Karen’s husband ,Greg, had to manage without his hat and my husband, Graham, lost his boots to the swagman! Whilst Karen’s children Raymond and Rene talk of leaving town at Christmas time, we suspect they will be there again offering their tired mum a coffee in bed, or waiting tea until everyone is home at 10pm.”

“Home“ says Karen wryly “was where they went to escape the crepe paper, and the monotonous diet of cold coffee and guide biscuits!”

collage of cardboard Christmas trees made by guides

Magic of Christmas outcomes

Over 1,000 families visited the hall in the time it was open and entry was free.

And was it worth it?

“Just to see the children’s faces made it  worthwhile” said Karen.

Father Christmas was always there no matter what time a family dropped in. If he wasn’t sitting in his chair he would always appear within a few minutes of someone’s arrival and he had a bag of lollies for all his young visitors.

Each child had their photo taken with Santa, with the photo being available for sale next day, and although there was no obligation to buy, most people did come back a purchase a copy.

Planning is already well in hand for next Christmas. Bigger and better things are planned and there will be many changes, including more activities and visitor involvement, and some moving displays.

Families will be charged a gold coin donation to enter, not to make a profit, but to improve the displays for the following year. School groups will be admitted free during the day.

But crepe paper will be out – paint is in next time!

“What we set out to do was make a Christmas spectacle on a shoestring – to do something anyone, anywhere could do. All you need is unlimited imagination,”  says Sue.

“If two housewives in Alice can make the Magic of Christmas, then so can anyone else in any other small town in Australia,” says Karen.

Nativity scene in Alice Springs


Karen further told me “We had so much fun doing it and seeing the faces of the kids was great!

“For me personally, I loved the fact there was somewhere Mums could take their kids on a hot day and not have to say no all the time. The relaxation on their faces was obvious – it was too demoralising visiting the air conditioned shops every day when on a tight budget so they appreciated the Magic of Christmas. Many returned several times!”

SO maybe there is a challenge to us all – set up our own tree festivals or complete Christmas displays like the Magic of Christmas!

More festival of Christmas tree ideas

As well as all the decoration ideas for a community group Christmas tree, I collected some ideas for the tree itself and for making the most of the decorating experience. So here are those ideas in another post for you 🙂

Again, many of these ideas were inspired by the 1st Facebook Scout Group, so thanks again to those leaders.

ideas for the tree and surrounds

  1. make a tree shape by lashing poles together – it can be a simple tepee shape or more advanced with branches off a main stem
  2. use an old canvas tent to form the tree, using something like an umbrella stand to hold it up
  3. stack 2 litre plastic milk bottle in layers to form a tree shape. You can stick a badge or picture over each lid as decoration and insert a light inside the pile

    Two Christmas trees made of milk bottles!

    Plastic Bottle Trees made by Harleston Guides in England

  4. whittle old wooden tent pegs to form a tree (in miniature) or the branches (on a bigger tree)
  5. stack up some old wooden pallets to form a tree shape – simple, rustic and effective!
  6. collect some sticks then lash them together in an appropriate shape. Spray white paint across the top and sprinkle over some glitter
  7. get the youth to collect some sticks (about 5mm thick) and cut them to size. Drill a hole in the middle of each stick and place them over a threaded rod (or straight wooden rod) attached to a wooden base. Spray paint or drizzle with glitter, maybe add some battery powered fairy lights or thin tinsel.

    Christmas trees made out of sticks

    Christmas trees made from sticks by scouts in the UK

  8. cut a tree shape out of thick cardboard (shiny gives a nice effect!) and attach it to a wall or divider. From there, it can be decorated however you like, but some ideas are to cover it with a photo of each person in the group and have a feature in the middle (Christmas song/poem, group photo, group logo, photo of your hall, etc), cut photos of everyone into bauble size and shape to stick on the tree, get everyone to put a paint handprint on it, or let the kids decorate it with textas and glitter.

    Christmas tree made of a collage of photos

    A collage based Christmas tree from Guides in Darwin

  9. use some old branches to form a natural looking tree – I once used a gum tree branch that way on our house. You can make this as small or as large as suits your space, too.baby grabbing tinsel off a gum tree
  10. collect some old LPs and add a photo or picture over the label of each one. Heat the record until the sides curve up and in to form a bowl of sort. Use a hot glue gun to join the ‘bowls’ to form a pyramid tree. decorate it with a bit of tinsel or just drizzle glue and glitter over it all.
    A similar option would be to keep the records flat and glue them onto a wire frame to form the tree.
  11. create a tree by gluing lids (plastic milk bottle lids, metal or plastic jar lids or metal drink bottle lids) onto a frame or just to each other to create the shape.

ideas for sharing the experience

So instead of just one person, or two or three, coming up with an idea and implementing it, here are some better ways to make the group Christmas tree a community experience.

  • get lots of people to give some input – you don’t have to be the creative one, and sometimes a group will brainstorm a much better idea than any one person thought of.
  • take it in turns. For example, one scout group gets a different section to design the tree each year – it always has a scouting theme but different age groups have different designs so it stays interesting, everyone gets a go and the other sections get a surprise.
  • allow time – maybe have one meeting for discussing and deciding on a theme and concept, and then another for making the tree, decorations, etc. For young children, an adult or two may need to put everything together, but older groups may need a third session for the construction and decoration!
  • have two trees! Divide everyone into to groups and let each group decorate their own tree – maybe on inside and one outside, or one big tree to sit under and one small to be a table piece. Lots of options and more Christmas trees just mean more joy!

So, what ideas will you be using for Christmas tree decorating this year? Maybe you can start a new tradition in the groups you belong to, and leave the box of old decorations stored away instead.

 

* Photos courtesy of Love Santa, Andrew (a UK Scout leader) and Fiona (Harleston Guide leader) – thank you!

Christmas tree festival

Have you ever heard  of a Christmas tree festival?

What is a Christmas tree festival?

Christmas tree festival photos

Apparently fairly common in England, and perhaps all of the UK, I have first heard about these in the 2016 Christmas season.

Luckily, Ellie T of Bicestor, Oxfordshire, was kind enough to explain them to me and share some photos of the festival she was involved in with her scout group.

Basically the local community come together to make a gallery of decorated Christmas trees. Usually in a church, local businesses, clubs scout groups, guide groups, schools and the like each pay for a tree and then decorate it however they wish. People then pay a donation to come and visit the gallery of trees, and all proceeds are directed by the involved church.

Ellie told me “they seem to be quite popular at the moment. We had to pay £19 for the tree and then decorate it. We can make a further donation to keep the tree or the church sell it to make a few more pennies. There were 80 trees in total for 2016 at St Edburg’s Church.

“The church also has a baptismal tree with a note of all the baptisms this year and a memory tree. They provide gift tags and you can write a message for a loved one no longer with us.”

Decroations made by scouts for their Christmas tree festival. I think it is a lovely idea. It would probably take a bit of effort to get one started in Australia as people don’t know about them – maybe they could be near some of the popular Christmas light displays!

Ellie also mentioned that she “came across a small chapel which was decorated with wreaths rather than trees! There were 80 of them also!”

The cost of Christmas decorations

Lego Santa, surfboard and Christmas tree in Melbourne

Lego Santa, surfboard and Christmas tree in Melbourne

My family had a great time last year checking out Melbourne’s Christmas sights. And we’re planning to do it again soon.

We equally love Christmas lights and displays on homes, both in our area and elsewhere we manage to visit.

Benefits of Christmas lights

So what is so good about seeing all those lights and decorations?

  1. it’s fun!
  2. they can be very beautiful, and we all need beauty in our lives and to remember to appreciate beauty rather than being so busy all the time
  3. it is a great way to spend some family time, and that is valuable. I still remember Christmas decorations on the street near my uncle’s house form when I was very young – it was a clear sign that excitement was on the way!
  4. Christmas can often bring out the best in people – they tend to be kinder, more generous and remember to show appreciation to people who serve all year – and if decorations and lights help bring that about they are well worth it as peace and kindness is what the world desperately needs at the moment
  5. walking around looking at lights gets people moving, out of the house and interacting with others
  6. it encourages people to visit public resources and appreciate their cities and town centres
Some of the Melbourne Christmas displays from 2015

Some of the Melbourne Christmas displays from 2015

Costs of Christmas light displays

Obviously, every Christmas decoration costs money. And wide scale displays cost a fair bit, especially if you factor in the electricity costs to run a light display.

I was surprised to read recently that it costs about $3.78 million to ‘fund and promote’ the Christmas displays in the Melbourne CBD. I hadn’t really thought about how much it cost before.

It’s a lot of money, and if you add in that most (all?) local councils also spend large amounts of money, it seems somewhat decadent to spend it on decorations rather than spending more on other causes (like homelessness and health care).

So it is worth spending that much money on one month?

Cutting the costs

I love the lights and displays, and I can see benefits to having them. But I am struggling with spending that much money on them.

So for what it’s worth, here are some suggestions from me on how to cut back those costs while still celebrating the Christmas magic.

  1. cut back on marketing and PR – most people know the city has displays without having to be told in a marketing campaign so this seems a large expense for little return. And even then, maybe use designers and marketers rather than big agencies to keep costs lower
  2. invest in solar panels to power more of the decorations – and other things throughout the year of course
  3. swap decorations with other local councils/cities so that they get more use and the costs are minimised
  4. sell tinsel and baubles etc after Christmas to recoup some costs and reduce decorations reaching landfill. Or donate lots of them to hospitals and other child-centric places so they can give Christmas cheer next year
  5. only put large decorations on every second pole so the impact is still there but at a lower cost
  6. consider the necessity of ‘VIP events’ or what is included at them  – the city paying for food for lots of VIPs doesn’t help the city or the locals very much
  7. rotate decorations so each set is used again after 3 or 4 years
  8. get public involvement. For example, a big wall could be covered with kids’ drawings of Christmas trees instead of paying for fancy displays

How else could cities and councils cut back on their Christmas savings without cutting back on Christmas cheer?

Beads for wildlife Christmas trees

Thanks to BeadWorks in Kenya, I have two lovely beaded Christmas trees to add to the Christmas tree and angel I bought last year.

Christmas trees and star earrings made from small beads

Beads for wildlife made Christmas trees and star earrings

I got these two trees, and a pair of green star earrings, from the Werribee Zoo – various Australian zoos run the Beads for Wildlife program. The program enables local women to create bead jewellery and decorations, thereby having an income (valuable for their families obviously) and reducing the need for large numbers of domesticated animals so there is less competition for African wildlife.

In short, my Christmas trees are contributing to their motto of More Beads = Less Livestock = More Wildlife.

Beaded Christmas trees hanging on a bottlebrush tree

Beaded Christmas trees hanging on a Bottlebrush tree

 

Lego Christmas stars

Checking the Love Santa Facebook page, I came across a short video of various Christmas stars made out of Lego. I showed my children the video, too.

So we couldn’t resist making some Lego stars, too 🙂

Advent calendar stars

First, we made some stars from the pieces in the Lego advent calendars (from the things received by day 21 anyway).

Christmas stars made from advent calendars

Stars made from (left to right, top the bottom) City calendar, Friends calendar, City and Friends characters, and City and Friends calendar.

A Christmas tree star

This Lego star was created by Cassie’s nine year old…

A Lego Christmas star on top of a Christmas tree

and this one by Martin’s 10 year old daughter…

and this one was created by Jen’s almost-11-year-old son, Nick…

martin_10_yo_girl

* Cassie, Jen and Martin shared these with us via Facebook

 

 

Christmas lights in Melbourne, 2015

I love walking around on a summer evening looking at Christmas lights!

This year, we walked around our local area with a group of friends which was a lot of fun. The biggest hassle is juggling going out when it’s dark enough to appreciate the lights with getting the kids to bed at a reasonable hour (given how tired they were for the end of school year anyway).

Anyway, I didn’t get my photos edited in time to share them before Christmas. So here are some of them now…

collage of Christmas lights

 

front yards and fences with CHristmas lights

 

 

Melbourne’s Myer windows

Growing up in Melbourne means visiting the Myer windows for Christmas.

Collage of Myer windows, Christmas 2015

A long standing tradition

As I mentioned last week, this is the 60th year that Myer has been providing this festive delight to Melbournians.

Like many Melbournians, I remember heading into the city (and going by train just added to the excitement!) to view the windows as a child and again with my friends as a teenager. Now, I get to take my children in and share the experience with them.

All but a few years had moving parts to the displays, and all years have a theme linking the six windows.

60 years

To celebrate the fact that the Myer windows are 60 years old, one of this year’s windows was very special. It showed the back of a typical scene so we can see the mechanism allowing for movement.

On either side of that scene was a bookshelf containing items/characters from old window themes. That is one window I wish I had been able to spend more time at, but it went quickly and was of less interest to my kids.

2015 – the little dog story

Little dog sitting in front of a gate in Myer windowSo this year, the theme behind the Myer Christmas windows is the book Little dog and the Christmas wish by Corinne Fenton.

Each window has a little dog at the front of the window looking into the scene of the story. The story can be heard and read as you move along the series.

As the little dog move around the suburbs and city of Melbourne, the various scenes show Melbourne from the 50s.

Changes over time

When we visited the windows last week I noticed a few changes from when I was younger.

  • there are structured queues so everyone gets a turn and starts at one end of the windows – and the doorways into Myer are kept free for shoppers! I remember crowds of people in front of each window, and you just saw them as you could.
  • the displays are behind a curtain. The curtain goes up, the story and movement starts, then the curtain goes down again to signal it’s time to move onto the next scene. There’s nothing to really stop you watching a particular scene more than once, but it is a good way to keep things moving smoothly
2015 Myer windows with 60th sign and little dog

The Little dog looking at the closed screen

Christmas in Melbourne

Earlier this week, we had a beautiful day in the city of Melbourne just walking around and viewing the Christmas decorations and displays.

I wish I could visit all the Aussie cities for Christmas, but I’ll have to make do with Melbourne! At least I can share some of the beautiful sites here, though.

Collage of photos of Lego Christmas display - tree, sleigh, star, Santa

First, we wen to Fed Square and saw the largest Lego Christmas tree in the southern hemisphere – it’s nearly 10 m tall! It is a very Aussie tree with koalas and kookaburras in the tree and obvious gifts underneath (like a cricket bat, footy and surfboard).

Then, we looked at the City Square which has a whole Christmas feel. As well as a tree and signposts, we saw plant reindeer, Santa’s seat and red flowers everywhere. The kids also enjoyed interactive aspects such as having their faces in an elf picture and hearing Santa laugh.

Collage of Myer windows, Christmas 2015

Next were the Myer windows, of course, with the story of the Little Dog and the Christmas wish. This is the 6oth year of the Myer windows which is quite something!

Collage of gingerbread village 2015

And we finished with epicure’s Gingerbread village. This was amazing and a fun way to see Melbourne. The village includes landmarks like Flemington racecourse (with Santa and his sleigh on the roof of the grandstand!), the MCG, St Kilda beach, Melbourne zoo (although I’ve never seen the animals stand in snow before!), the arts centre and the Grand Prix. It’s fun spotting the places and the little details throughout, and amazing to realise it is all made out of gingerbread and icing!

Merry Christmas Melbourne!

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