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  • Dana Tutela

The Joy of Christmas Decorating

Updated: Dec 28, 2023

Embrace the holiday spirit by decorating for Christmas with nostalgia and serenity.

Brightly lit Christmas tree next to leather sofa and peace pillow

Let’s face it: most of us are not interior designers or photographers and probably not Pottery Barn employees. We scroll past image after image of festive trees and elegantly decorated houses and question everything we’re doing. White lights or color lights? Real tree or artificial tree? Tree skirt or tree collar? Ugh! Just pass me some eggnog!

This year I’m putting the joy back in Christmas decorating. I’m tuning out the Do’s and Don’ts and I'm sharing what makes Christmas special for this ginger. So put on your holiday music, sip that eggnog and let’s celebrate the season!

Lights, Lights and More Lights!

Let’s begin with the most obvious Christmas decoration-the Christmas Tree! Whether you have a real tree or an artificial one, make it shine brightly.

My friend, Kim Pruitt, once told me while we were cleaning up after a dinner party, “There’s always room for one more dish!” That woman can load a dishwasher! The same is true for the tree. There’s always room for one more strand of lights. Even if it’s artificial and pre-lit, add some more!

redhead putting lights on Christmas tree

In fact, adding holiday lights around your home, garden and work space is an excellent idea to improve your overall mental well-being. I like to drape fairy lights around my kitchen cabinets, headboards, and desk area. Outside, we light the bushes, the front door wreath, and the enclosed garden area (chicken coop, too!)

The Today Show explains how Christmas lights can make you feel happier.

redhead wearing gloves to to string lights on holiday tree

*Ginger Tip: wear thin garden gloves to protect your skin while setting the tree up and stringing lights. Gloves are especially helpful if you need to ‘fluff’ an artificial tree.

Hopefully, your tree is standing secure and is brightly lit! (Maybe you are, too, after all the eggnog). Next, decide how to decorate it! When our Charleston house was on the market, we kept all of the family photos and school made ornaments in storage, and I purchased the expensive ones from Pottery Barn. The tree was very pretty. It stood in the foyer and made a lovely backdrop for our Christmas card. However, I will never forget how empty that tree felt without the special ornaments.

Christmas tree topped with tranquil angel

I used to jokingly refer to our traditional tree as the Junkyard Tree or the Charlie Brown Tree, covered in mismatched ornaments with clashing colors. While hanging the ornaments this year, I tried to take my time and savor the story behind each ornament, even the ones from the year our house was on the market. That’s when it hit me- it’s a Memory Tree. That’s what makes the tree special and brings joy to me: the tiny handprint ornaments from our children when they were little, crafty handmade ornaments from my sister-in-law and her kids, unique ornaments as gifts, and ornaments from trips that we’ve taken. They all have a memory to reflect upon and cherish. That’s what makes the Christmas tree beautiful!

nostalgic handmade photo ornament

joyful baby photo ornament in red frame

red heart shaped photo Christmas ornament with happy girl

The Christmas Wreath

If you saw my earlier post Christmas with an Orange Door, you know we tried several different wreaths to see which one looked best. We kept almost all of them so I keep switching them out every week!

orange front door with olive green winterberry wreath

However, the wreath that really puts the joy in Christmas decorating for me, was the one I made with my friends at a wreath making party. Ann Louise invited me to join her and some ladies at Roots (now The Nested Fig) in Greenville, South Carolina several years ago. All of the greenery, decor pieces and hot glue were on hand. We just picked and dipped and made beautiful wreaths. I felt like a kid in a candy shop! Making more memories! I’m not sure if Wesley still does these workshops, but he does wonderful how-to videos on Instagram @farmshenanigans.

peaceful evergreen wreath with burlap bow and birds nest

Christmas Plants

Research shows that indoor plants can help reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and boost your mood overall. I read this article on the Washington Post and thought immediately about my mom. She has inspired me to garden and nurture plants ever since I was little. I guarantee in her house right now is a variety of different holiday plants such as a Christmas cactus, Amaryllis bulb or poinsettia. I just called her and I was right! Here is her photo to prove it. She knows how to make her home merry and bright with vibrant Christmas plants!

red and white Christmas cactus on kitchen counter

Nostalgic Home Decor and Traditions

Obviously, there’s no wrong or right way to decorate for Christmas. You do you! However, take the time and ask yourself, "What brings me joy and happiness during the holidays?" Christmas can be incredibly stressful for many people. Reduce that stress by focusing on what makes Christmas special for you and brings you tranquility.

A study in The European Journal of Social Psychology suggests that elements of nostalgia during the holidays can create connectivity with family and friends and therefore meaning in life.

My suggestion for bringing joy to your decorating is to incorporate meaningful traditions and collections. Do you celebrate the birth of Jesus? Perhaps a nativity scene that is a family heirloom brings warmth to your home. Do you have a special holiday collection? Put it out for all to see. For a time my daughters gave me a wooden nutcracker every year. I love putting them on display in the kitchen. My sister-in-law collected (and gifted!) Longaberger baskets over the years. One of mine holds the Christmas cards each year. It's also never too late to start a tradition. What inspires you?

navy blue kitchen cabinets topped with nostalgic wooden nutcracker collection

Do you have a Charles Dickens Christmas village? I couldn’t afford the desirable Charles Dickens pieces back when I was in college, so I purchased a less expensive version from Lillian Vernon. It makes me smile, especially when I see the obvious Charles Dickens buildings that I added to it later not realizing how much different in size they were! I am fascinated by the really elaborate collections that some people have displayed. They are magical! But the true joy comes from the moment I spy the children marveling at the tiny people and secretly moving the pieces around the cottony snow village.

ceramic Christmas village collection with nativity scene

Another favorite tradition that brings me delight is this string of jingle bells. It hangs patiently throughout December until Christmas Eve when we finally have the Pajama Drop. “Santa” is heard outside as he rings the jingle bells and shouts, “HO! HO! HO! Merry Christmas to All! ” and disappears. The kids know to run outside and look for their first Christmas present- wrapped holiday pajamas which mean it’s time to go to bed or Santa won't bring the rest of the gifts! Works like a charm! They might be adults now, but that doesn’t mean the tradition has to stop, right? Funny...Bob is always missing during the Pajama Drop...and so are the jingle bells.

family heirloom jingle bells on green velvet quilt

Over Thanksgiving, I helped my neighbor, Cynthia, complete her handmade Christmas stockings for her adult kids. She has a blended family and made replicas of the hand cross-stitched stockings she made years ago in order to bring everyone together. I’m in awe at the amount of time and love she put into this. She is an inspiration to live a life led by faith and fellowship. Not only was this a joyful act for her family, but it also brought me joy to help her sew them. They turned out lovely!

special hand embroidered Christmas stockings

For our own stockings, I made tiny photo ornaments of each child when they were little and each year I hide them in the tree. On Christmas Eve (before the Pajama Drop), everyone finds their ornament and hangs it on a stocking so “Santa” knows whose is whose.

My sister-in-law, Nancy, is the queen of crafts and has made us countless treasures over the years for Christmas. It brings me so much happiness when I unpack the holiday tubs and find her creations. Every door knob gets a little hanging that she made. Our tree has numerous special ornaments courtesy of Nancy and her kids (now adults), Kate and Brian. I hope it brought them as much joy to make them as it does me to display them!

handmade felt Christmas decoration

Now that I’m out of eggnog, I’m going to grab one of the adorable Christmas aprons that my stepmom, Kathy, made for me and my daughters and head to the kitchen! She is also very talented like Nancy. I don’t know how they find the time to do everything, but I am so happy they do!

three ladies in Christmas aprons making cookies

When Christmastime is Stressful

Let's be real, Christmas might be a difficult time of year for many of us. Perhaps a loss of a loved one or financial hardship is keeping the holiday spirit at bay. What if there's no room in your space for a Christmas tree? What if your childhood holidays were not nostalgic or heartwarming? I had a friend who refused to be at home on Christmas to avoid dealing with extended family. So every year, she and her husband took the kids on vacation. Problem solved. They made that their family tradition.

book titled the book of joy

If you have the ability, find an organization that needs volunteers over the holidays. This is one of the best ways to boost your spirits and add true happiness to your life. One of my favorite books is The Book of Joy in which His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu are interviewed together. These two dear friends share their message that in order to find joy for oneself, one must bring joy to others. I highly recommend listening to this book on audio because it's very conversational and the accents are excellent. (#Affilate link)

If social media is making you feel inadequate, take time for yourself and step out of the Christmas Perfection Contest. It's just a bunch of highly edited photos on your feed anyway. I prefer a blurry one from 70's that reminds me of the magic of Christmas and an age of innocence and wonder.

old photo of family by Christmas tree and fireplace

old photo of redhead girl holding stuffed horse for Christmas

Nostalgic Christmas tree from the 80's with tinsel and garland

What brings you joy when you’re decorating for Christmas? I hope you can relax by the tree, take a trip down memory lane and have a very merry Christmas!

Please keep in mind that I may receive commissions at no expense to you when you click my links and make purchases. However, this does not impact my reviews and opinions. I only endorse products or services that I believe are worthy of such an endorsement. 

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