10 Tips from Boston Experts to Make Your Christmas Tree Sparkle

Your tree can look just as nice as the Boston Common tree. Well, almost.

Photo via Getty Images

The pumpkin pies have been reduced to crumbs, the plates are in the dishwasher, and just like that, Thanksgiving is officially in the rearview. That means that the Scrooges of the world can hold it back no longer: It’s officially the Christmas season. Whether you wait patiently for mid-December to decorate or you pull out the garlands and ribbons the second the leftover turkey is packed away, it’s time to start thinking about how you’re going to trim your tree this year. While those ornaments you’ve glued back together dozens of times will always do, why not go the extra mile to give this year’s evergreen a little extra sparkle? Below are ten tips to help you up your Christmas tree game, from a panel of locals who know a thing or two about decking the halls.

The Experts

Michael Smolak: Owner of Smolak Farms, a North Andover farm that offers pre-cut and cut-your-own Christmas trees.

Chris Gregory: Owner of Boston Christmas Trees, an Allston Christmas tree lot that has been in operation since the ’70s.

Len Schnabel: Principal at Design Light Co., the lighting company responsible for decorating Faneuil Hall’s Blink! Christmas tree.

Jan Goodman: Owner of Cityscapes Inc., an indoor and outdoor decorative landscaping company that has decked the halls of hotels and office buildings across the city for decades.

Tree Care

Check your chosen tree for freshness. The process of decorating a perfect Christmas tree begins not when you pull the boxes of ornaments down from the attic, but when you’re in the tree lot. Whether you take home a ten-foot-tall Balsam fir or something more Charlie Brown’s speed, one thing’s for certain: You’ve got to pick a fresh one that has plenty of moisture locked in. How can you tell if your chosen tree is fresh? “Run your hand down a branch with needles and make sure the needles don’t fall off,” says Michael Smolak of Smolak Farms. “If the needles feel cold and a little spongy, that’s a tree that has moisture,” adds Boston Christmas Trees owner Chris Gregory.

Place your tree in a shady spot. Once you’ve carefully brought your tree home, it’s time to decide where to put it. This is a critical step when it comes to keeping your tree pretty. “Make sure to keep it away form a heat source or bright light to keep it from drying out,” Smolak advises. If you keep your tree in a shady spot, it’ll stay green and fragrant for much longer.

Keep it hydrated. Asking someone at the tree lot to cut a couple of inches from your tree’s trunk will also help with water absorption, a key part of keeping your evergreen green. Then, “as soon as you can, get the tree in water,” Gregory says. Even if you aren’t putting your tree up right away, stand it up in a bucket of water in a shady place outside. And, once it’s up, make sure to periodically mist the needles, Gregory adds.

Lighting 101

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Choose your LED lights with care. It’s great that many people are now decking out their Christmas trees with LED lights out of consideration for the environment—but don’t just pick up the first strand of lights you find at the store. “As a lighting designer, the color temperature of the lighting is so critical,” says Len Schnabel of Design Light Co. “A lot of the LEDs are much cooler…so make sure you’re not buying lights that’ll look gaudy and garish.” Look for LEDs that are specifically labeled as “warm,” or make sure they’re low on the Kelvin scale, to make sure they’ll give off the cozy glow you expect.

Don’t be afraid to let your lights shine. It’s just a fact: Hanging ornaments is way more fun than hanging lights. However, that doesn’t mean that you should coat your tree in baubles. “You want to make sure that your ornaments don’t block the light,” says Jan Goodman, president of Cityscapes Inc. To make sure your lights can shine through your ornaments, Schnabel advises keeping things simple, and following a rule of three to avoid overloading your tree. “Three is a magic number for designers,” he says. “Pick three elements: lights, and then two other elements, like ornaments, garland, or ribbons. You want to have a primary, secondary, and tertiary focus.”

Decking It Out

Photo courtesy Boston Cityscapes

Consider a simple theme. While your ornament box might be stuffed with a hodgepodge of trinkets, Goodman suggests following a simple theme if you’re going for a more cohesive look this year. “Lately, we’ve noticed that the trend is going more organic,” she says. “A Scandinavian, natural, minimalist look is an easy theme.” A metallic theme is also effective, and easy to pull off: Gather some low-cost, plain ornaments (or round up some of the more tired ones in your own collection) and go to town spray painting them in silver and gold.

Remember that size matters. “You don’t want to have certain things overwhelm the scale,” Schnabel says. “The 70-foot Faneuil Hall tree has monstrous ornaments because they have to be.” But putting those same ornaments on your tiny apartment tree, he says, would be ridiculous. When you’re considering scale, think about viewer experience: Will people be viewing your tree from a distance? Or will they be able to get close and see details? Adjust your décor accordingly.

Keep the colors already present in your room in mind. When Goodman is planning out one of her stunning lobby designs, she always considers how the design will mesh with the colors and décor styles already in the room she’s decorating, she says. At home, you can do the same: When you’re planning out what color scheme you want on your tree, think about how it’ll look against the paint on your walls and the carpet on your floor—and maybe reconsider that chartreuse tree design if you’ve got bright orange wallpaper.

Gather inspiration from around the city, not just on Pinterest. While the internet can help you start dreaming up your perfect Christmas tree look, there’s nothing like seeing some inspiration in person—and there’s plenty to be found in your own backyard. “Take a tour around Boston’s downtown and just gather some ideas from looking in the lobbies,” Goodman suggests. Local hotels and office buildings go all out for the holidays because they want you to look, after all.

Don’t forget why you’re decorating this tree in the first place. Before you get too deep into DIYing ornaments, ordering perfectly-coordinated ribbons and garland online, and furiously sketching out your tree branch by branch, take a breath and remember: Decorating a Christmas tree is about family time first, and aesthetics second. “When it comes to your family tree, it’s a family decision,” Schnabel says. “If your kid has given you a red and green paper chain, you put it up there no matter what the scale or color scheme.”

“We always say around here that perfect Christmas tree for your house is the one your family picks out for your house,” Smolak adds. “It’s hokey, but it’s true.”