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Two Creative Ways to Decorate Your Holiday Tree

This season, we’re Making Magic, bringing you a series of easy transformations to embellish already-wonderful things, from tables to mantels to wreaths. Today, we’re decking out the Christmas tree. Slide back and forth on the image below to see the magic happen.

When I was growing up, decorating our family tree always started off as a fiasco. First, there was tree shopping, an affair that generally took about an hour longer than it needed to and ended with at least two siblings not talking to each other. We’d go to the local elementary school tree sale, which the dads loved because they were allowed to bring their own chainsaws from home to trim the bottom branches. (This may seem a little frightening in retrospect, but it all made sense at the time.)

We’d tie our selection to the roof of the car, or we’d try to, anyway—one time, the tree fell off twice before we tamed it with an army of jumper cables and twine. Transporting it from said roof to our living room was a journey in its own right, involving a lot of grunting and a few choice four-letter words from the grownups. My brothers and I would detangle and test the lights, about 20 percent of which were inevitably duds. We’d make fun of my mother’s obsessive bulb placement, and each other, until we got sent to our rooms.

But once we’d gotten back in our parents’ good graces, and lugged the boxes of ornaments down from the attic, something wonderful inevitably happened. We’d unpack glitter-rolled pinecones, macaroni hearts, tissue paper–wrapped crystal sleighs, and Scandinavian wooden stars, each one reminding us of a time or a person we loved. Every last ornament, fancy and craft project alike, went up on our tree. The topper was a wooden angel, painted with her mouth in an oval to signify she was mid-song. Once she was securely in place, and the rainbow lights were aglitter, Christmas was officially on its way—cue the carols, roasted chestnuts, and Ella Fitzgerald.

At Food52, our trees may be more streamlined, but they’re every bit as festive as my memories of yore. Slide left and right to see two ways we decorated ours: one more simple and classic, the other dazzlingly embellished.

To decorate our simple tree, we started with golden lights woven loosely through the branches, then added a selection of ornaments in a cream-and-gold color scheme—some crafted of soft, fuzzy material; others of shiny metal. The tree is crowned with a minimalist wire star, a twist on the classic topper. The juxtaposition of materials in a pared-down palette creates texture and interest without overdoing it.

Our second look is inspired by our art director Alexis Anthony‘s own tree, which features rustic, natural decorations. We kept a few ornaments (because you gotta have ornaments), but added dried flowers and leafy accents in white, tan, green, and deep burgundy. They add beauty and make cleanup a breeze (just compost them!). Crowning the tree is a dried sunflower—no singing angel, but special in a different way.

Whatever look you’re channeling, play around a bit; try out a new type of ornament (while keeping the macaroni heart you made when you were 7). Or incorporate some natural elements into your decorating scheme. No matter what you do or how long it takes, make sure you’ve got a mug of hot chocolate in hand, some Ella Fitzgerald on the stereo, and a few people you love to help out. Even your brothers.

How do you decorate for the holidays? Tell us in the comments.

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