Decorating Christmas trees in the ’70s: De-lightful tree decorating possible
Adapted from The Evening Sun (Baltimore, Maryland) December 18, 1973
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer may be the only perfect solution to this year’s Christmas lighting problem. But don’t despair; there are delightful ways to decorate a Christmas tree without the usual strands of electric lights and shiny drugstore bulbs.
Leave that stuff in the box and warm up the house with an old fashioned Christmas tree using traditional decorations everyone in the family can make. Borrow freely from the colorful Christmas trees of other countries or revive Nineteenth-Century America with a Victorian tree or its country cousin, the pioneer’s tree.
Appeal to other senses. Fill your rooms with fragrant greens and hang throughout the house clusters of pungent red peppers and lots of oranges studded with cloves. Decorate a real tree with homemade cookies and marzipan, peppermint canes, nuts, paper cornucopias of candy, and chains of cranberries and popcorn.
Popcorn is probably the most traditionally American decoration because it’s the only indigenous one, says Mrs. Henry Lochte, production chairman of the annual Christmas tree exhibit at the Cheekwood Fine Arts Center in Nashville, Tenn. The exhibit was the basis for “The Trees of Christmas,” a lavish book depicting trees and decorations of many countries.
The English tree has wide, red taffeta swags and sugar-plum baskets made from paper doilies and ribbons.
On the Danish tree hang stars and clusters of cone-shaped bells made from bright gold paper. Colorful paper peacocks and other birds nest in the Polish tree amid chains of bright paper circles. Candies wrapped in tissue paper with fringed ends hang among elves and angels carved from lightweight wood on the Swedish tree.
You can copy the Scandinavian custom of decorating with small flags. Try a melting pot of flags or use only one flag, stringing the miniatures together or tying up just a few together.
In Scandinavia and parts of Eastern Europe, straw is widely used to recall Christ’s birth in a manger. You can use straw or paper drinking straws to fashion stars tied with red twine. The Lithuanian tree features small straw angels and is topped with a whisk-broom angel with burlap wings.
You may want to cover your tree with lacy paper snowflakes to depict a Ukrainian legend about a spider who decorated a tree for a poor woman who had no trimmings.
This year the Cheekwood exhibit focuses on American trees and many homemade ornaments that you can copy. One of the most colorful trees has a Pennsylvania Dutch theme, with robust motifs painted on plywood circles. Other Pennsylvania Dutch designs, which can be found in reference books, are painted on ping-pong balls and plastic pop-it beads. The tree also has brightly colored plywood birds and hearts scattered among real pretzels.
On an Appalachian tree, they’ve hung knitted mittens, popcorn chains, orange pomander balls, cornhusk dolls, sycamore seeds tied on with yarn, cookies and ornamental peppers.
Alabama farm tree
An Alabama farm tree has cotton balls, circles of popcorn looped over individual branches, and knitted or crocheted afghan squares. A schoolhouse tree has small gift-wrapped boxes and is topped with a star of corn shucks decorated with kernels of corn. Hanging on one of the most impressive trees are toy trombones and small plywood guitars with the strings painted on.
The safety of the home-made decorations at Cheekwood is impressive: nothing sharp, or easily breakable, no fire hazards and lots of goodies a toddler can safely grab and eat.
Similar Christmas exhibits are held annually at the Garden Center in Cleveland, where a horticulturist suggested do-it-yourself decorators could make sailboat ornaments from walnut shells, toothpicks, and paper triangles; or small figures from pieces of dowel glued together.
According to a curator at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, a collection of Victorian tree ornaments includes a white glass ball painted with delicate flowers, small wicker baskets with cloth tops that tie with a drawstring, and a variety of small toys. The curator says cornucopias made from cones decorated with lace and ribbons were especially popular then.
If you forgo colored lights, you may want to use highly reflective tree ornaments. Decorate small mirrors or fill your tree with figures cut from disposable aluminum foil pans or sheared from tin cans. Cutouts made from the aluminum pans can be decorated with felt pens and clear or colored nail polish.
Cans often yield both gold and silver-colored metal, and you can use the sides as well as the lids if you cut the seams off with a wall or electric can opener. (Wear gloves when handling cut tin.)
Tin ornaments, fruit, cookies & more
Tin ornaments will be shinier if you burnish the cans with soapy steel wool. Easy-to-cut tin figures include camels, roosters, butterflies, gloves when handling cut like a fleur-de-lis.
If you decorate with fruits and berries, a coat of shellac will help to preserve their appearance. (Pears don’t last as long as other decorative fruits.)
Since you can’t eat your coated fruit, bake cookie ornaments that are tasty and sturdy. Carl Sandburg College, Galesburg, IIl., provides these recipes from Anne Lewis:
Basic sugar cookies for ornaments: Combine 3 cups flour, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup shortening, 1 teaspoon baking powder. 1 teaspoon soda. and 1 teaspoon salt. Mix together like crust and add 2 eggs, 2 teaspoons vanilla, and 4 teaspoons milk. Make a hole with a plastic straw or insert an ornament hanger, then bake at 400 degrees for 6 to 8 minutes.
White icing for the cookie ornaments: White background icing: Beat 4 cups powdered sugar into 3 egg whites until light and fluffy. Thin with water to the consistency of enamel. Apply to cookies with a 1-inch paintbrush. Let dry before decorating with colored icing.
No matter what kind of decorations you choose to make, consider a trip to the library to consult the many how-to books often available on Christmas decorations.
On the limbs of a ceiling-high evergreen, favorite fantasy characters join in a toyland show of Christmas colors and merry spirit
Toyland tree, beautiful girl- and boy-land tree (below), bending with a burden of goodies every child hopes Santa Claus will bring.
It’s an eye-popper, this rollicking profusion of delights for the young, a veritable animal kingdom of soft, cuddly creatures riding the silver balsam tree along with Santas, fire engines, drums, doll babies, clowns, angels, trinkets and trifles to defy a toy shop inventory, all radiantly spotlighted with the gleam of shining ornaments.
It’s the quintessence of Christmas, seen through the eyes of a child, the stuffed animals (most of them handmade), the long-time accumulation of Walt Disney memorabilia by Lenny Meyer, cartoon animator and illustrator of children’s books.
It’s not exactly a tree trim you can go out and buy all at once. The designer was James K. McNair, an author and horticultural designer, who punctuated the toy trim here with wooden tops, cherries and apples lacquered a merry red. We thought the button-eyed cat and a chenille-ball Bugs Bunny deserved their own close-up photograph (above right).
Floral and pink Christmas tree decor
Decorating Christmas trees in the ’70s: Childrens’ toys and dolls plus fabric ornaments
For the creative decorator, a joyful holiday mood can be established with traditional bloom and greenery or with stylistic mood-makers
Artist Bill Polito wraps up unique holiday gifts the boxless, paperless way, using natural straw suitcases, hampers and baskets all tied with bright red velvet ribbon bows.
Robert Webb designed the assemblage of gifts with a prancing silver horse from Christopher Chodoff around a carved wood, black marble-topped console table that stands beneath one of Polito’s paintings in his dining room. Gifts are given as a postprandial treat.
Designer Dick Ridge of Ridge-Hill Interiors dresses up a classic entry hall with traditional Christmas symbols (below left). Black-and-white checkerboard tiles and ivory walls hung with mounted prints and horns are transformed into a festive interior with holiday flora — a circular evergreen wreath amid the prints and poinsettias blooming beneath the table. A paper Santa greets arriving guests from his own special perch on a champagne cooler.
Any objects dear to the heart can turn a tall green tree into a Noel beauty
An impressive 12-foot Douglas fir stands in the California living room of Mr. and Mrs. Michael Chumo (below). Lyn Chumo of Combs and Combs Studio of Design designed the tree without electric lights.
Instead, lively ornaments are a marvelous collection of dolls gathered in the Chumos’ travels around the world and clothespin dolls made by friends. Snowless though Pacific Palisades may be, the jolly snowman makes his appearance in the form of a woven basket.
Interior Designer David Laurence Roth loves flowers no matter what the season. So, for his living room, Jack Bangs of The Gazebo embellished a tree with natural-look artificial blooms in hot pink, red and orange. Tiers of heavy yarn festoon the branches, replacing glittery tinsel but offering the same swag effect.
Packages in brilliant hues to match the paper flowers and tied in multicolored ribbons add up to a charming holiday setting.