Dec 042010

The two weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas Open House are crunch time. Ideally, with a week left before the party I want the decorations to be completely finished and the house mostly clean so I can spend the final week focused on cooking.

It never quite works out that way.

Twin Bridges Nursery Christmas Tree Lot

Twin Bridge Nursery Christmas Tree Lot

The tree is done, at least. THE tree, not the dozen I have scattered around the house in heights varying from 1 feet to 6. I love my theme trees, and take great joy in them, but my Christmas tree, the one that counts, is the live Frasier Fir in the den. We purchase it the Sunday after Thanksgiving every year at Twin Bridge Nursery down the road.

One year I just couldn’t find a tree on the lot that I liked, so we spent an hour going up and down the road to several other lots. By the time we came back to Twin Bridge, half their inventory had sold and we found the perfect tree the second time around!

This year, thankfully, we found the perfect tree the first go round, but hubby and I both take the selection seriously. We’re shaking branches to see how many needles drop, checking for bare spots, making sure the trunk is straight – or mostly straight, at least, and checking the sturdiness of the branches. I have a lot of heavy ornaments, so my tree must have many stiff branches to support the weight.

Here’s a tip: Bring a measuring tape to the tree lot.

Trees can look awfully small on the lot surrounded by other trees. Remember the branches will drop and open up, so the tree will get bigger after it’s decorated.

We aim for no taller than 7.5 feet (remember to account for the tree stand) and no wider than 4. Though one year I just fell in love with this really chubby tree. By the time it was decorated the thing must’ve been 7 feet wide. It was almost round – we had to rearrange some furniture to accommodate it, but boy was it cute.

This year we got about the perfect size. I almost ran out of branches to hang all the ornaments on, but the tree fits perfectly in the space – not too big, barely not too little. (I’m exuberant in my decorating, so I like bigger trees than are really practical for the room we have.)

Ornaments on the tree

Just a few ornaments on the tree...

Generally, we get the tree Sunday, it’s in the stand and nearly in place by Sunday night and I spend about two days putting the lights on. Then we push the tree to its final spot a couple of feet from the wall and tie it to a sturdy hook so it won’t fall over.

This may seem paranoid, except it happened to us one year, caused an issue with the tree lights, and I had to half undecorate the tree until I found the problems and then redecorate.

So now we tie the tree to the wall with very strong, clear picture wire – no idea what it’s made of, but you can’t see it unless you’re really looking, so it works for me, and I trust the tree will stay upright.

Anyway, by Tuesday I’ve got all the garland, ribbon and beading on the tree and we can start hanging ornaments. I let hubby hang the first ones because he can easily find open branches this early in the process. (Though I have been known to “rearrange” his ornaments if I think they’re on too strong or too weak a branch.) Once a couple hundred ornaments are on the tree, it gets harder to find places to hang more.

I can’t hang all the ornaments in one go, partly because there are just too many and partly because I get bored easily. So I’ll pull out 10 or 20 at a time, pick an area of the tree, hang that selection, and then make some cookies or something.

Scooped, frozen, ready for baking cookies

Scooped, frozen, ready for baking cookies

Speaking of baking, at this point most of the cookies are made and in the freezer, ready for baking the day before the party.

Cookies are the perfect do-ahead dessert.

I’ve made double batches of most recipes, scooped the dough onto baking sheets with my smallest cookie scoops, frozen the dough, then placed into labeled zippies and stashed the bags in the freezer. I put the baking time and temp on the bags too, so I don’t have to pull out the recipes again. I’ve even rolled out the gingerbread, cut it into shapes, and frozen the cutouts! So Friday I’ll simply pull all the cookies out of the freezer, plop them on to sheet trays and bake!

How do you get ahead during the holidays? Do you buy a live tree each year?

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