Don't Just Decorate Your Christmas Tree, Imagineer It!
'Tis the season for putting up a Christmas tree in your home. Whether you're going for a faux fir or a good old-fashioned, buy-at-the-lot tree, the possibilities for decorating it are endless. Luckily, Disney has a long history of Imagineering trees in the parks and David Caranci, who has been part of that process for more than 20 years, has a few tips to help Imagineer your tree this year—and for Christmases to come!
David's first note is to figure out your theme. "Are you carrying that theme throughout that entire location—your home—or is it going to change from room to room?" he asks. "Because if it does change, then you need to find a common thread that connects everything together. For instance, in my house we have a beachy, cottage feel so our Christmas tree is themed to that. We have a lot of distressed wood, starfish, and shells that we decorate with. That theme carries through the fireplace mantle and the kitchen. But when we get to the kids' rooms, that theme changes into a more traditional, kid-friendly look."
One you have your theme it's time to start decorating your tree. "These are things I have done personally, but have also instructed teams to do at Disney parks," David adds. And he's compiled a list of 10 tips and tricks just for you this holiday season. Time to get decorating!
1. Make Your Tree Look Full
Most artificial trees don't have enough foliage to fill them out. You can buy the same type of pine garland and layer it inside the tree, filling in places that are sparse. Another way is to fill in the tree with large ornaments. We've always been taught to hang the ornaments nice and neatly on the branches, but there is nothing that says you can't buy oversized large ornaments and pack them into the center of your tree.
2. Add Some Snow
You can also fill the centers of all the branches with batting for a snow effect. It looks like snow has fallen in a very unique way. Snow falls on the end of pine branches but if you pack it into the center of the tree, coming out to the ends of the branches, it fills in a lot of the space. And if you add the lights first, when you layer in the snow batting, it looks like the snow is glowing.
3. Choose Your Lights
When you choose lighting for the tree, make sure the type of lighting works with the theme. So if I am doing a Pirates of the Caribbean tree, I don't want to put LED lights on it. I probably want something warmer and have that visual feeling of candles glowing. You could use incandescent mini lights or amber lights to give it that look.
4. Add Pixie Dust
If you take a strand of twinkling lights and add them to the center of your tree—coming out no more than halfway down the branches from the center—and then add the steady lights on the outer branches you get a very magical glow to the tree.
5. Light Technique
Use 100 lights per each foot of the tree. So if you have an 8-foot tree, use 800 lights on it. Put your power strip on the inside of the tree—wire or zip-tie it in place—and weave your lights from the center, in and out, up and down. So if you have a branch you weave up one side and back down the other side and then to the next branch. That way your tree is fully lit with the same consistency from top to bottom.
Be creative with your ornaments to match your theme and the ornament creation is a very fun craft to do at home. One year we made a Cars Land tree and placed a Piston Cup award at the top and, instead of ribbon, we built roads that went around the tree and placed the cars on the roads. It's very different, but very cool because people are not used to seeing that type of theming on a tree. For traditional ornament bulbs, you can use pipe cleaners or wire to cluster ornaments together and then attach them to the tree branches.
7. Tree Skirt
Besides the traditional tree skirt, if you are doing a themed tree, be creative with how you decorate the tree stand. You can create a gift box or something else that fits around your base. Just use a regular cardboard box and wrap it in wrapping paper—inside and out—and add it to your base. Throw some tissue paper into the box so you can't see down inside of it.
One thing that works really well is to start at the top of the tree and go vertically down, and tuck the ribbon in at every level of the tree. You can pinch it and tie it back periodically so it looks like a wave. Another technique is to add your ribbon diagonally using three pieces, almost like a maypole. You can braid them into the tree and they will criss-cross in sections. Just tuck those braided sections into the tree. This works well if you have a floral top or an angel on the top of your tree. You can use that same floral in those places where the ribbon intersects so that the theme is a common thread throughout the tree.
9. Tree Topper
You can do whatever you would like to fit your theme. At Disneyland we have added an Indiana Jones hat at the top of a tree in Adventureland with bamboo coming through it. You can use hats or feathers. In Fantasyland, we have used crowns at the top. You want the topper to be the right size. It has to be big enough so that people see it, but not so big that it looks heavy and clunky as if it is going to fall over. You can also do multiple stars that are connected. One year we did a Tron tree at our house and used an Identity Disc as the topper.
10. Be Dramatic
Since decorating can be expensive, do one or two things really well and layer in additions year to year. Do a couple of things that look amazing and have a three-to-five-year plan of getting your tree—or trees—where you want them to be.
David is also the producer of the décor package for Disneyland's 60th anniversary celebration so stay tuned for more to come from this very talented Walt Disney Imagineer!
Once you've put up the tree, you'll need a dessert to enjoy while you sit and admire it. May we suggest the S'mores Bake From Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue at Disneyland.
Winter holidays are the time for sweet indulgences, so what better time to share this goodie—perfect for splitting around a fire pit or the kitchen table. Give everyone a spoon and dig in!