Thursday, December 25, 2008


The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord."

Luke 2:10–11

May this blessed day fill your hearts with love and peace.
Happy Christmas!

Adoration of the Shepherds
Domenico Ghirlandaio, Florentine, 1449–1494
Image from the Web Gallery of Art

Monday, December 8, 2008

O Tannenbaum

Or, The Making of a Christmas Tree

One note before I begin: all Christmas trees here in the Philippines are synthetic. No fir trees. There are pine trees in certain places but they're huge and left to grow freely—no pine tree farms. So, synthetic it is.

The tree we have right now comes in three sections. Except for the main trunk, all the branches are flexible—a boon when storing the tree because they can be bent close to the trunk. It's five feet tall and I place it on a round side table both to make it look taller and also just to make sure that our dog doesn't decide to 'mark' it as part of his territory.

The bare, synthetic tree.

After it's set up, the first thing I put on the tree is the star topper. It has lights and needs to be plugged into the first string of lights. The cable's too long and I have to loop it several times around the top and make sure the plug ends where I want the lights to begin. The plug's white too, which is irritating. I nestle the plugs on the joints of branches and the trunk so they're more secure.

The star tree-topper. That white plug has to be covered up later. Notice the mess of light strings—sure looks awful up close.

Then comes the most tedious part of the process: the strings of light. Just looping the strings around the tree creates line patterns which I don't like. So I use the 'in-and-out' technique, using green twist-ties to anchor the string where needed. This technique ensures that there are lights on the tips and the inner sections of the branches. It's tiring though. This five-footer uses four 100-bulb strings. So I don't waste time and energy, I test each string out of the box. When I plug a new string into the previous string, I test it again. When I'm done placing the string on the branches, I test it a third time. Have you ever experienced stringing lights on a tree just to find out when you're done that they don't work? It's enough to make a Grinch out of anyone.

A note about the lights: the Philippines is a big importer of very inexpensive lights made in China. I stopped using them several years ago for many reasons, which all boil down to the fact that the quality is terrible. The brand I use is quadruple the price but I don't get scratches from poorly molded plastic and even after being turned on for several hours, I don't feel heat from the bulbs. Oh, and I only use steady, clear lights. No colors, no movement, no music.

The final light test. I adjusted some of the branches after this shot to fill in those holes.

After a break to rest my poor triceps, I begin the fun part: the ornaments. I always use a very limited color palette and most of our ornaments are very simple too. Much as I love the many designs available in the market, I avoid ornaments that are easy to crush (and therefore difficult to store) or those that can rot (like our native ornaments made of twigs, rattan, abaca and other natural materials). I have silver, white, clear, red and gold ornaments in storage. Last year's tree was all gold and I didn't feel like having a white Christmas, so I decided on red and gold.

What our ornaments lack in shape, they make up for in texture. There's matte, shiny and glittery.

The problem with using mostly ornaments on strings is that the tops of some branches can look bare. This happens when the ornaments hanging from the branch above don't quite reach the branch below. For those bald spots, I have silk flowers on plastic stems which I just lay down on the branch.

Et voilĂ !

The unlit Christmas tree on the round table. The tree skirt will hide the stand, the switch of the extension cord and the table.

Hmmm… some of those branches need more adjusting. But all in all, I'm satisfied with this year's Christmas tree.