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Oh, Christmas Tree!

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Sure, icicle lights can brighten your front path and a handsome door wreath is a surefire smile provoker. But no holiday home decorating is complete without the right Christmas tree – one that’s lovingly adorned, entrancingly illuminated, and ready to greet guests as they enter your abode. In fact, more than 99 million homes – comprising 77 percent of all American households – displayed a Christmas tree in 2015, according to a survey conducted by Nielsen for the American Christmas Tree Association.
But with so many styles and options available today, it’s easy for homeowners in the market for a new Christmas tree or accompanying décor to get overwhelmed. Relax, say the experts: whether you choose a freshly cut fir with all the trimmings or a synthetic sapling, you won’t be a sap if you plan carefully.
First, remember that the tree you select “should represent your unique style and reflect your family’s holiday traditions, which sets the tone for all your festive entertaining,” says Emily Hull-Martin, home fashion director for Bloomingdale’s in New York City. “Think about making your tree the focal point for the room.”
Second, give thought to practical matters by scouting locations and taking measurements.
“Figure out where the tree will go, and consider available space, ceiling height, and if there are electrical outlets nearby,” suggests Alena Capra, owner of Alena Capra Designs, a Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based interior design firm.
Next comes perhaps the biggest decision of all: real or artificial? Both types have their pros and cons.
“If you love the smell of fresh pine or fir and don’t mind watering and cleaning up dead needles, nothing beats a real tree for creating a festive holiday mood,” Hull-Martin notes.
Kurt Heckman, a Frederick, Maryland homeowner, is a firm believer in a bona fide Douglas fir.
“As a tradition, we cut our own tree on the weekend after Thanksgiving at a cut-your-own-tree farm in the area,” Heckman says. “But we need to keep it watered and be careful when the tree is in the house, as many homes are lost every year to fires that start from a dry Christmas tree.”
Mark Chisholm, an arborist with Aspen Tree Expert Company in Jackson, New Jersey, says real trees have to be picked carefully.
“I recommend choosing one with some empty spaces or there won’t be much room for ornaments,” says Chisholm, who suggests buying an uncut tree (with its root ball intact) you can keep alive, and later replant, by planting it indoors within a container. “Also, be sure the first foot of the trunk is straight, or you’ll have a hard time getting it to stand correctly at home.”
For these and other reasons, most Americans opt for an artificial vs. real tree (81 percent vs. 19 percent), with an estimated 11.5 million artificial units purchased last year that will be displayed for an average of 11 years, per the aforementioned poll. Artificials come in many sizes, shapes, colors and varieties, including unlit, pre-lit with LED or mini bulbs, pre-flocked with fake snow, alternative-colored (like white, blue, pink, tinsel, or metallic), slim/narrow (for tight spaces) and even upside-down.
“Pre-lit artificial trees are easy to put up, easy to take down and the lights are already on it. The branches and shape are perfect, and the decorations go on easy,” Capra says.
When it comes to lighting a real or imitation tree, “it should have at least 750 bulbs, which equates to 100 lights per foot,” says Thomas Harman, CEO of Redwood City, Colorado-based artificial tree manufacturer Balsam Hill, who recommends LED lights for greater efficiency and a 90 percent longer lifespan than traditional bulbs.
“Multi-colored lights help create a youthful look, especially if you’re going with colorful ornaments. If you’ve chosen more monochromatic ornaments or metallic, go with clear lights,” says Hull-Martin, who advises matching the color of your light cords to your tree’s color.
If you’re aiming for an elegant tree with harmonizing colors, ornament kits are worth exploring, Harman says.
“I also like to consider the décor of the room when deciding on ornaments,” Capra says.
As for the tree topper, whether it’s an angel, star, ribbon or bow, there’s no wrong answer.
“You need to think more about ceiling height and the weight of the topper, as a lot of the stars and angels they make are somewhat heavy,” Capra says. “I personally prefer bow tops for color and because they don’t weigh down the tree top.”