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November 26, 2011 10:52 AM   Subscribe

What are your favorite Christmas decorations? Which decorative items should I replace after losing most of them in a flood?

What makes perfect, timeless holiday decor?

We had a flood that claimed the bulk of our Christmas decorations, and now I'm looking for some ideas about what to replace. Previously I put up a normal size tree with a skirt, lights and ornaments. We also had a couple santas and wreaths. Our style is pretty eclectic, I'm open to any suggestions, from crafty/folksy to sleek modern.

Bonus question: Where do you purchase items that don't feel so disposable? So much of what I've found seems cheap and of poor quality, even at higher price points.
posted by Nickel Pickle to Shopping (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What makes perfect, timeless holiday decor?

Stuff that is collected over time, by your friends and family.

In your situation I'd start with minimal classics - tree, a few lights, a star - and tell your friends that what you'd really like for Christmas is one ornament to rebuild what you lost in the flood, and I'd do that for years.

Won't look like much in year one; it'll look like Christmas in year five.
posted by mhoye at 11:02 AM on November 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

I feel for you. This is my first christmas living in a house with my fiance, and thus we are also starting from scratch. I agree with mhoye that stuff collected over time is the most sentimental, but that doesn't help you feel any cheerier this holiday.

What I did was go to AC Moore (they always seem to have ridiculous sales) and got a simple wreath, some beaded garland for the stairs and a few other glittery little trinkets. You will amass stuff over the next few years but this can tide you over in the meantime.
posted by pintapicasso at 11:16 AM on November 26, 2011

I totally agree with mhoye above. One of my favorite memories from childhood was decorating the Christmas tree. We didn't have any generic "ornaments." No boring balls or icicles. Every ornament on that tree had memories and a story associated with it. Unfortunately, you can't go down to the store and buy memories. I've been on my own for about 8 years now, and I'm just starting to accumulate enough ornaments for a tree. I'd start out with some lights and pretty dangely balls, then switch them out as you collect memories.
posted by Weeping_angel at 11:16 AM on November 26, 2011

Take your time to re-buy (or get as gifts) replacements--don't feel like you have to have everything replaced this year. The stuff I love the most in my house is not the mass-produced stuff, but artsy or unusual or vintage things that I found or got as gifts. So, Etsy would be a good place to start, or your local art bazaars. There are also a million craft fairs and holiday festivals this time of year.

Even if you're not much on crafting stuff yourself, you could always fill out a skimpy tree with popcorn strings, Christmas cards, or small gifts in the branches instead of below them.
posted by emjaybee at 11:17 AM on November 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

mhoye has a great idea, but that won't make this christmas look like Christmas. For this year, I suggest going the greenery route - make a trip of going to the forest to cut pine or spruce boughs to make wreaths or to stick in vases, set pots of paperwhites or amaryllis growing, get a pointsettia. Get some cheap dollar store mini-lights and plastic christmas balls - stick them in big glass vases if you have them. Plug in the mini lights, and voila, instant festive. Candles, candles, candles.
posted by LN at 11:19 AM on November 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Cost Plus has some pretty blown-glass ornaments (they looked nicer in the store than on the website) and they have a few locations in Michigan. Maybe one is near you?

Also, I once saw a tree that was decorated entirely with little origami ornaments. Traditional simple things like cranes, plain colored paper, and it was utterly beautiful. If you can't buy nice ornaments in time for this year's tree, maybe you could have an origami party with family and friends and decorate a stop-gap tree.
posted by Quietgal at 11:36 AM on November 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

(fake) pine roping, wired ribbons to make into bows, glittery snowflake ornaments, and small gold and red glass balls. (The snowflakes get hung in the windows, and from sconces. The balls look nice in a glass bowl or vase.) It's simple and versatile. I can change things up a little. (Bonus: cranberries/holly berries and pinecones to decorate the roping.)
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 11:36 AM on November 26, 2011

Ove of my favorite christmases ever was spent with an uncle who really didn't have much in the way of ornamentation, so we hung out at his kitchen table and made paper ornaments. Maybe have a little gathering with your friends and put out the arts n crafts stuff, some punch and whatnot, and hang out, listen to tunes, and get your craftgeek on. Heck, I'd love to participate. I'll send you an ornament, if you like. :)
posted by ottergrrl at 11:42 AM on November 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm in the same boat as you this year. I picked up some vintage and well priced items at Goodwill. I'm resigned to the fact that it will take a few years to build a new set of Christmas decorations but I'm looking forward to the process. Also, I really like Hallmark's ornaments and my partner and I have decided to pick one out for each other every year. In a few years, we're going to have a tree covered in personalized ornaments.

Some other ideas:

Shrinky-dinks! Remember these? One year I printed pictures of Amy Brown fairies (cheesy, I know. But I was, like, 22) and had a whole themed tree for the cost of some ribbon and shrinky-dink pages.

Stockings are a really easy sewing project if you have a machine.

God's eyes are easy and look lovely on a tree with handcrafted decorations.
posted by dchrssyr at 11:45 AM on November 26, 2011

I have two sets of decorations: utility stuff (lights, garland, bulk glass/glassish ornaments) that I know is going to fall apart before terribly long, in a color scheme of some sort (red, gold, and frosted white is mine), not expensive, and then the other set of ornaments made/purchased/received that have sentimental value or are nicer pieces. Over time, that utility stuff is going to break or short out or get lost, but in the meantime you're adding things that mean something and mostly maintaining the same general amount of stuff.

I still have a lot of that first big round of grown-up utility ornaments (almost all of which came from Target - my nicer stuff came later from Cost Plus), and just by the sheer factor of being the ornaments we use year after year they've come to have a general sentimental meaning. I still have no problem throwing out broken and scratched ones, though.

If you've lost your stuff in a flood, though, now is the time to ask friends and family to contribute to your restocking, either with gifts or homemade contributions. You can even have friends sign/decorate generic-but-sturdy balls with paint pens, beads and glue, or stickers.

For power-outage purposes, I just bought an enormous $20 pack of vanilla-scented LED pillar and votive candles at Costco. The pillars have timers in them so they stay on for 7 hours and then come on at the same time the next day. You can safely go nuts with those, and they should last a good long time.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:50 AM on November 26, 2011

Nthing the "Rebooting Christmas Memories" tree trimming party idea; you can even recommend that people who aren't feeling particularly crafty are invited to bring an inexpensive unique ornament that is symbolic of their friendship if they like instead.

As far as other decorations go, I'm from the "less is more" school of holiday decoration; Your house shouldn't look like Rankin-Bass barfed all over it. I usually display all the cards that people send me over the course of the season on some string stretched across a wall. Put a wreath (don't be afraid to use artificial) on each door of your house. You can buy fairly cheap battery/solar powered short light strings to wrap around the wreaths and your exterior lighting/decration is done. A couple of inexpensive rope garlands with some bows & lights in them over doorways/room entrances or along mantles/bannisters and Voila! Christmas, she is done!

Also, memail me and let me know where to send an ornament!
posted by KingEdRa at 12:03 PM on November 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

For this year, lots of greenery: wreaths and swags and the tree, of course. Maybe make a display of multiple miniature (1-2 foot) trees in a couple rooms. Intertwine those swags and wreaths with lots of miniature lights, and --- of course! --- lots more of those same lights in the tree.

Take your time building up your stash of Christmas decorations: after all, it took years to build the now-lost collection, right? But for this year, get some simple, solid-colored glass balls, plus invite all your friends, kids and family to each make you one ornament: those'll mean far more to you in years to come than any quick load of store-bought decorations ever will.
posted by easily confused at 12:26 PM on November 26, 2011

My husband's a chef and many of our ornaments are food-related: glass onions, fruits, hamburgers, etc.. We usually buy one or two things on vacations to serve as memories as well as decorations. I don't like "theme" trees, but if you do want to collect--picking out things that have meaning for you isn't a bad idea.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:23 PM on November 26, 2011

You could make paper Froebel stars. (If you have a cat, you should consider these disposable. The cat certainly will.)
posted by zeptoweasel at 1:42 PM on November 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Some of my favourite ornaments are the ones my mother had on her childhood tree (and the little candle holders, but I've never been game to put real candles on our tree) - a close second are the similar vintage ones I bought in a second hand shop in Canada while visiting my now husband at Christmas time. Old glass ornaments are just a little bit magical, in my opinion, and will help give depth to a tree, if you mostly have new ornaments.
posted by thylacinthine at 3:09 PM on November 26, 2011

For this year, you can also make sugar ornaments, which are easy and pretty and sparkly. You mix granulated sugar, food colouring (paste, ideally) and a bit of water until it sticks together, use it to fill a mold (bell shapes are nice, put a ribbon in so you can hang it), let it dry, empty out the centre, then you can decorate the sugar with piped royal icing.
posted by jeather at 3:29 PM on November 26, 2011

Bread dough ornaments are pretty easy to make a fair number of and look nice. (It helps if you either have or can borrow Christmas cookie cutters.) I made a large number the first year Mr. Epps and I were married, and it helped to fill out the tree.
posted by Margalo Epps at 5:01 PM on November 26, 2011

Quick, buy a new ornament for everyone now -- and do so again each year. In the mean time, buy some cheap red glass balls and some colored lights for the tree. Buy a wreath for the door. And play Christmas music so the air has something seasonal in it even if the walls don't.

You WILL build this stuff up over time: decorating the tree today with our four kids, I realized we didn't have room for those red glass balls that had been our staples for the first few years. You'll get back there, too, in time!
posted by wenestvedt at 8:09 PM on November 26, 2011

I hadn't had a tree in ages before I had my daughter, and so when we came to her first Christmas, there were only about a half dozen ornaments for the tree. I just bought an inexpensive but super cute set from Ikea. I think it had 24 balls + 24 sparkly snowflakes, and garland, all in one colour scheme. The tree was full enough, which was all I really wanted.

In the 7 years since, we've phased out the Ikea balls in favour of sentimental favourites. But as everyone has said, it just takes time. I'm also slowly building up other decorations. I just keep my eye out for something beautiful and try to resist the stuff that isn't. If you feel like you need more, you can always add more lights. Lights are my favourite part anyway, I try to put them on every window and both our balconies.

Last year, I made a million paper snowflakes and decorated with them. It was so pretty I left them up long after the other decorations had been put away. 'Til the spring thaw, really. They're just made of printer paper and some glossy poster-paint paper, and threaded together with white sewing thread.
posted by looli at 8:39 PM on November 26, 2011

These suggestions all sounded great, but also kind of depressing! Like you won't have a "real"set of happy decorations for several years and you are just treading water until then...but no! There's also something good to be said about starting over. I think some people have touched on it by mentioning having a few sentimental ornaments and then bulking it up a little with cheap generic stuff. I guess that's probably how everybody starts out when they leave the place(s) they decorated as kids and get their own trees....but have a good time choosing that stuff which may be cheap and generic but also is stuff that you have picked out yourself(ves)! This is the first year that we have verged on too many ornaments for our tree, and in the need to cull some ornaments, I have found that some of that cheap generic stuff is winning the competition. Because it's stuff that we picked out ourselves, it's now favored over some of the ornaments I remember having/making as a kid but never really loving.

And since you asked for specifics, I favor red of everything....so I've bought over and over in different levels of quality, big red glass balls, small sparkly plastic balls, glittery toys in red, red sparkly garland, red and gold sparkly garland, deep pretty red (to me). As a second, I also like gold on the tree (and I am not a 'gold' person, but platinum and silver just don't do it for me against greenery). And then there are all the things that don't 'match' the red and gold. But there's so much red and gold, it frames the rest of it. So even when stuff that I bought cheap wears out (or more often, parts of a set do), the rest still all kind of goes without being too matchy. Also, skip the tinsel garland unless you love it -- it's what my family always had, but in the past few years, I've become conscious of beaded garland, and it is so so so prettier. Plus the tinsel garland gets dusty and gnarly... Anyway, that's a personal preference, but maybe the overall idea will help you out.

As for places to get better quality, all the ornaments I've bought at Macy's have held up well and seem pretty sturdy (except obviously the glass things). I'm sure they have chintzy stuff as well, but when I'm paying Macy's prices, I tend to select for things that seem worth it. I think by now or within the next week, they should have ornaments at half-price. I don't think all of their stuff is unique either but there's a source. Whatever you end up doing, have fun :)
posted by Tandem Affinity at 9:20 PM on November 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I spent a few years in Germany, and Germans make great Christmas ornaments. But, sorry, I have no idea where or how to get them outside Germany.

Something I used to do sometimes is put a model train around the tree.

Another possibility is getting a smaller tree that is easier to fill out.
posted by maurreen at 11:49 PM on November 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Estate sales are great for picking up vintage ornaments for cheap! Almost every sale has at least a small selection. Check craigslist.
posted by wwartorff at 10:31 AM on November 27, 2011

Somewhat like Tandem Affinity and color (red/gold) - when browsing the shops before Christmas, I will buy a new ornament if it is star shaped. Or a real working bell. Or is beaded. Or an owl. Or other bird. So I guess it helps if you have a "thing" - or five. I also put a new ornament in each stocking every year (my husband, my son, and mine), and they're usually a "set" of some sort - three of something in a different color for instance.

They have wonderful and nicely made ornaments at Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn and the like. Agreed with Cost Plus/World Market, and some things at Pier 1 are nice.
posted by ersatzkat at 5:25 AM on November 28, 2011

Thrift and antique stores usually have ornaments. You may even be able to replace a cherished ornament or two.
posted by deborah at 7:20 PM on November 28, 2011

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