Sprucing up a festive favourite
While traditional reds, golds and silver are still popular, your yuletide decorations will really pop with a rainbow-themed Christmas tree
I once took a Christmas tree on holiday. True story. We were going away on Stephen's Day and I just couldn't bring myself to part with my lovely tree. So we took off the ornaments, wrapped up the tree, and strapped it onto the roof-rack. Borderline pathological behaviour, I know… The tree looked fairly windswept when we arrived, but it survived. We soon had it up and decorated, and it cheered up the low-budget rental cottage no end.
For me, the tree is the best thing about Christmas. It has to be a real one, it goes up on the first weekend in December, and it comes down on Twelfth Night, come hell or high water. I'd never let a Christmas tree linger after January 6. You might offend the wood elves or something. Deirdre Whelan, interior designer, grew up in Holland, where traditions are a little different.
"We always had a real tree with a mix of artificial and real candles," she says. "The real ones were lit for a short time, under supervision, with a bucket of water beside the tree, just in case. We had white lights, and a mix of silver and homemade decorations. My mum was very creative and she made lots of beautiful decorations out of bread dough (mixed with glycerine to preserve them). We also had little chocolate wreaths in the tree that we were allowed to eat on Christmas day."
Now, after many years in Ireland, Whelan still feels that a live tree sets the tone for Christmas.
"If you find they are messy, go for a little potted tree that sits on the sideboard or on the hall table," she says. "It could be decorated with tiny baubles or with little set of lights." In her own home, she uses white lights on the tree. Then, she decorates the tree with earthy coloured baubles and handmade decorations in the Scandinavian style. Nobody does crafted Christmas like the Swedes and the Danes. "We don't get a big tree so I tend to hang items that are light in weight. I hate it when the tree starts drooping its branches because the decorations are too heavy," she says. "It makes the tree look sad."
"To really pull a well-thought through look together, it's a matter of sticking to one theme," Whelan says. "Just keep the decoration simple and don't mix too many colours. I don't think you can go wrong with elements of red and silver, they are quite timeless, and red brings a great layer of warmth and cosiness to a room. Blues and greens are also fabulous."
Christmas decor is getting more trend-driven by the year. A few months ago, John Lewis forecast that 2018 would be the year of the rainbow tree, which will appeal to members of the LGBT community. "To ensure your festive look is #trending, recreate the ombre effect by arranging baubles in a spectrum of shades from the top to the bottom of the tree." Early adopters can buy a box of 32 rainbow baubles for €29.50 (plus delivery). Remember that you will need more baubles in whatever colour you choose to use at the base of the tree. Or try the "Paperchase 5ft Shiny Rainbow Christmas Tree" with rainbow bands of colour in a metallic finish is €63 from Next.
The Christmas shop at Meadows & Byrne is more traditional. Here, the two main festive themes are Classic Christmas, which comes in traditional red with all the familiar motifs, and Celestial Christmas with a palette of light gold, silver, champagne, pewter and white. Helen Coughlan, its retail director, has noticed an interesting shift in Irish habits. "Until 2016, red was the most popular colour by far," she says. "It was the backbone of Christmas!" Then, last Christmas, a surprising thing happened. The Celestial Christmas colour palette became more than twice as popular as red. "You can't argue with the figures," says Coughlan.
She's also fanatical about Christmas. "It's very easy to make Celestial look good," she says. The pared-back version of Celestial might involve a limited number of baubles in white, mercury and clear glass, combined with a set of white lights. "Your kids are going to hate it," she says. "It's a look that's geared towards single people or couples." For a more romantic take on Celestial, she suggests lots of foliage, and baubles in oyster, light gold and champagne.
"The Celestial look wouldn't work in my home," Coughlan admits. "It's an old country cottage and I have two children. We're going traditional because it's what they want." Rather than make a difficult choice about how to decorate her own tree, she's planning two. One will be family-friendly with twinkly lights and decorations in red, gold, and green. Then, in another room, she'll have the grown-up version with khaki greens, coppers, champagnes and dusty pinks. The Christmas shop at Meadows & Byrne isn't the place to stock up on basics though. The idea is that you can buy a multi-pack of baubles in the local hardware shop and save up for a few special items, adding to a collection over time. A red berry and pine garland, for example, costs €25.95. So does the Christmas Tree tealight holder. And the Champagne collection of lit wreaths costs €39.95.
"I have Christmas place settings that I paid a fortune for, and they come out twice a year," Coughlan says. "But I don't mind that."
Her mother's old saying "less seen, most admired" still holds true. "Those are the things that create the memories that will keep you company when you're old. What they do for you is much more powerful than something that you use every day."
See meadowsandbyrne.com, next.ie, deirdrewhelandesign.com, and johnlewis.com