Trimming the tree is a treasured family tradition for many folks. Sometimes, however, a full-blown tree can be more than we want, need, or can manage. If you’re in a small space, have extensive travel plans, or are struggling with illness, you might be ready for a different solution. Tree alternatives abound on Pinterest and the rest of the internet, but many of them don’t offer the opportunity to hang more than a few treasured ornaments.
I found myself in just this position recently. In 2014, I dug out the ginormous tree carton and wrestled it into the living room, having conceded to allergies a few years prior. But the task of setting the whole thing up, just for me, seemed daunting, especially since I’d planned to spend Christmas week with family out of state. In the end, the box sat on my living room floor, unopened, all season. I did not miss the exertion of putting it together, battling lights, hanging baubles, and reversing the entire process a few weeks later. I did, however, really miss the cheer of lighted evergreen and the joy of seeing ornaments filled with holiday memories, many of people long gone and much loved.
Last year, I came up with a solution: a three-foot artificial pine wreath wound with lights and trimmed with all my favorite ornaments. The process was simple. I actually had an empty wreath in my storage room, one of those things I’d picked up on sale and meant to do something with someday. You can find them at any craft store, however, and used ones often turn up at thrift stores and yard sales. You may have to un-decorate and clean if you buy used, but canned air is great for dusting these wreaths. I used the three-foot because I had it and it was the perfect size for my ornaments, but you can go larger or smaller if you choose or do more than one.
In addition to the wreath, you’ll need two to three strands of lights (unless you don’t want them or buy a pre-lit wreath), your ornaments (hooks removed), a spool of green floral wire (find it in the floral section of the craft shop), a wire cutter, and possibly needlenose pliers. The process is pretty easy. First, string on your lights, making sure to leave enough room free on the plug end to reach the outlet you intend to use. You’ll find that the backs of most craft wreaths are flat so that they’ll hang neatly against the wall, so I recommend “weaving” the lights among the boughs on the front rather than “wrapping” the lights all the way around the wreath. I also recommend you hang the wreath and verify that you can plug it in before you start decorating because it’s much easier to rearrange the lights before the ornaments go on.
Once you’ve got your lights in place, lay the wreath flat on the floor, greenery-side up, and arrange your ornaments. This is actually the most time-consuming and challenging part of the project, but it can also be fun to select just the right spot for each item. While you’re arranging, don’t forget to consider whether you’ll want a centerpiece item such as a bow or star as you’ll need to place this piece first and work around it. I actually opted to set my tree topper, a craft angel my mother made for me many years ago, on the bottom inner curve as you can see in the photos.
When you have a layout you’re happy with, start cutting your wire. You’ll need as many lengths as you have ornaments. Six inches turned out to be the optimum length for me, but you may have to try one or two to decide what works best for you. Then simply slip the wire through the spot on the ornament that’s usually reserved for the hook and wire to the tree. I twisted my wire a time or two right above each ornament’s hook-hole to prevent shifting and that’s where the needlenose pliers came in: after a dozen of my nearly 60 ornaments, my fingers were getting sore.
Once you’re wired up, hang and enjoy. I place a small table below and cover it with fabric “snow” to provide a place for my nativity set (another hand-made gift I’ve had for decades). I can pile non-edible gifts around the base of the table and, for me, the effect is the same as a tree with far less hullabaloo. When the season’s over, I just hang the entire wreath on a hook in a storage closet to wait for the next year. It’s simple, chocked with memories, and the perfect fit for my life. I can’t wait to enjoy it again this year.