We have handy hints and tremendous tips for the season dotted throughout our How to Christmas site, with a side-heading ‘Elf Helper. You will spot them as you peruse the pages. Then we had a thought: why not put them all on one page for your convenient access? Voila.
Have a plan where to place your freestanding ornaments, candles, vases, greenery, bowls of sweets and nuts. If you place things on surfaces at random, alongside the ornaments you usually have there, it could detract from your Christmas theme. Maybe consider clearing away at least some – if not all – of the ornaments you normally have displayed, even photo frames. They can be stored in your Christmas decoration boxes temporarily. When you bring these back out in January, you will appreciate them anew. Group your Christmas ornaments together. This will maximise space and give the arrangement a purposeful look.
Check how easy and safe it is to connect several strings of the same type of lights together. Will you need to use more than one plug socket? Will you need a plug extension cord? Examine the voltage. Never take a risk where electricity is concerned. Call an expert if necessary. And for fixing lights without putting holes in your wall, try Command strips. Visit amazon.co.uk or the brand’s own website.
Christmas Flowers & Greenery
Stargazer Lilies are usually available in white or deep pinks, they have good, firm stems that are easy to cut to length. The lilies’ pollen can stain fabrics, but the stamens in the centre of the flowers can be removed by wearing latex or rubber gloves to gently pull the tips away. This does mean the plant loses its contrasting centre colour – but at Christmas there should be enough in any festive arrangement to counter it. Should you get pollen on a fabric, use sticky tape and gently press several pieces of tape onto the pollen to lift it away from the material. Don’t try to rub the pollen away as this could make the stain worse. Pollen is poisonous to cats so keep out of the way of furry friends.
Hyacinths have become a Christmas fixture, with their highly fragrant flowers filling the air, and are historically connected to rebirth. The stems can droop, but a piece of slender garden wire gently inserted into and down the stem can solve that problem and will not damage the plant. The bulbs are, in effect, forced to flower early and are normally heat-treated for this very purpose. Feeding is not required as the flowers only require the goodness of the bulb, which means they can be grown in water alone. Use pebbles at the foot of a vase to keep the roots in contact with water, while allowing the bulbs to sit above the liquid. Bulbs will rot if they sit in water. Purpose-made Hyacinth vases can be purchased that have narrow necks to hold bulbs in position out of the water.
Want to keep flower heads together so they don’t drop to one side of the vase? Apply sticky tape in a criss-cross pattern over the top of the vase and then slot the flower heads between the invisible supports.
Petersham Nurseries, always so inviting in the Christmas season, offers Festive Wreath Making at its Covent Garden and Richmond locations in late November and early December. For more details, check out the ‘What’s On’ section at petershamnurseries.com.
Personalise a front door wreath by attaching a chalkboard tag. You can then customise messages for expected guests. Sets of four 11 x 5cm chalkboard tags are available for less than an average bottle of wine. They work well with chalk or chalkboard pens and are reusable if the chalk is rubbed off – so each batch of guests can be greeted with a fresh message of good cheer. Each tag is made of eco-friendly wood and painted in chalkboard paint. They each come with kraft string twine.
Think about using an extendable curtain pole or shower curtain pole for hanging garlands and lights over doorways – be it from wall-to-wall in a hallway indoors or in a porch outdoors.
If you are struggling to know what to buy someone, tell them you have bought their gift already and ask them to guess what it is. Their replies will give you several gift ideas to enable you to go out and buy the right thing.
Perfume and cosmetic samples you may collect throughout the year or find in promotional gift sets can make decent Advent gifts in homemade calendars.
Check out Luna Lighting – Designer & creator Anna Perring has been developing her range of playful ivory-white porcelain tea-lights since 2006. Her aim is to create work that captures the purity of porcelain yet is uplifting and makes people smile. All are handmade in her Central London studio. See the collection at hiddenartshop.co.uk/collections/luna-lighting.
Visit festivepromotions.com or snowglobes.co.uk (launched in 2005) and you can have bespoke snow globes made. Both addresses take you to the same site. They create photo-globes and allow for various kinds of personalisation across their range, from the ‘modern round’ dome to the largest ‘grand round’ globe.
A great idea for kids – and hopefully a little Christmas morning present to you – is the “torch-annual-tangerine” combo. Growing up in Glasgow, one of our friends always found these three things in the stocking at the end of his bed. It was an orange, not a tangerine, in his case. When he woke at the crack of dawn, he could eat the orange to stave off hunger pangs while reading his annual to torchlight. He knew Father Christmas had visited, but didn’t quite feel the need to rush off and wake Mum and Dad. Even if this buys you an extra hour’s sleep on Christmas morning, it’s a pretty good gift.
You might want to consider keeping all of your wrapping equipment together. There are a number of products out there suitable enough to hold rolls of wrapping paper and compartment shelves for tags, sticky tape, scissors and ribbons. Alternatively Gift Wrap Organisers are widely available in a similar price range. These are made of more flexible material rather than hard plastic and have zip pockets along with handles for easy carrying. Visit amazon.co.uk or notonthehighstreet.com for an array of choices.
Tablecloth tips – use a base cloth held down by waiter’s clamps; this will prevent the top cloth sliding about. You can iron the tablecloth when it is in place by putting a clean tea towel on it and gently ironing the creases away segment by segment.
If you wish to remove tarnish from silver, first line a bowl with aluminium foil. Put hot water in the bowl and add a dessertspoon of salt. Put cutlery in the water. The mysterious and very safe chemical reaction will clean solid silver and silver plate of tarnish. It’s like magic. For stainless steel: put a small amount of olive oil on a cloth and wipe over cutlery. This will remove any residue collected in the dishwasher. Repeat the process with a touch of vinegar on a cloth and the cutlery will sparkle.
If you want to make your glasses smear-free, mix a small amount of bicarbonate of soda with a touch of water in a small bowl and make into a thick paste. Wipe it on the glasses and remove the smears left by dishwasher cycles.
Interested in Christmas Pudding Charms? You can purchase sets of sterling silver charms from Not on the High Street, Amazon and other stockists. Vivi Celebrations have a traditional set of six. The charms are a horseshoe, a sixpence, a thimble, a wishbone and a bachelor’s button. Vivi also have a luxury set of six charms that are larger and more detailed and also sets of nine luxury charms.
If you have an especially tall tree in a corner of the room, find the top of the cornice – or a similar point on your wall – and screw in a small hook. You can now tie the top of the tree to the hook with wire or piece of twine to prevent it from falling over. This can be an issue when trees placed in a corner are decorated predominantly on one side and are weighted in one direction.
Willow basket style tree skirts have become more popular in recent years – good for rustic, contemporary or traditional rooms. We know one of our team had to return their willow skirt because it wasn’t wide enough for a large tree, so be careful of size. With that issue in mind, there are also half-skirts in willow: perfect for trees in corners or against walls. There are also cylindrical galvanised metal tree skirts (think of it as a low-lying bucket/tub effect) that work in a number of domestic settings.
Before purchasing, check the size of any tree-holder is sufficient for the height of the tree and width of the trunk. Your supplier can always help by cutting off lower branches or shape the trunk to fit the base of your choice. If your stand has retaining screws that hold the trunk upright, ensure they are easy to tighten and release. Of course, you could always put your tree in a container like a large plant pot or half barrel and secure them with pebbles, soil, sand, bricks, gravel or stones. We find we can water the container of pebbles and moisture is retained to a perfect degree to keep the tree fragrant and perky throughout the season. Always remember to put the tree in the pot first before pouring in pebbles or stones.
Once purchased, stand your tree in water in a cool environment – in a garage or shed is best if you have one. This gives the tree chance to adjust from being outside to coming into the warm indoors. When you do bring it inside, cut off a couple of centimetres from the trunk just before it goes in its holder – unless, of course, you have already had this done for you at your tree suppliers.
As far as possible, keep real trees away from radiators – or turn down the one nearest the tree whenever you can. Keep topping up the holder reservoir with water throughout the festive season. Using a long necked plant watering can makes it easier. Treating your tree with care should ensure that it lasts around a month, with minimal droop/drop.
Big trees need plenty of water and some can soak up a gallon of water in their first few hours in the stand. Make sure your stand’s water reservoir is large enough. The National Christmas Tree Association in the USA recommends a tree stand should provide two pints of water per inch of stem diameter. Ensure the cut part of the trunk stays below the waterline.
You may have heard adding Aspirin, lemonade or other ‘magical’ aids to the water will extend the tree’s life. Not in our experience. But such concoctions might make pets or children sick if they drink out of the water reservoir, so stick with good, clean water.
Christmas Decorating Safety Tips
There are reports of fires caused by Christmas lights and decorations each year in the UK. Candles can be a fire hazard all year round and not just at Christmas. Always keep lit candles away from any furniture, fabric and greenery, as well as draughts. Keep lit candles out of reach of children and pets. Choose suitable holders that retain candles in secure and upright positions. There are also safety steps you should take with other decorations. The fire service gave out this information in December 2018 after a house fire in a family home in South Wales.
Display your Christmas lights in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
Ensure you buy Christmas lights from a reputable supplier and check they comply with the relevant safety standards. Check they carry the ‘British Standard’ sign and that the fuses are correct for purpose.
If bulbs blow, replace the lights.
Do not leave decorative lights on when you go out or when you go to sleep.
Do not let the bulbs touch anything that can burn easily, like paper.
Do not overload sockets and extension leads.
Only use outside leads for outside lights.
Do not place candles near a Christmas tree or materials that can easily catch fire.
Do not attach decorations to lights or heaters as they can easily burn.
Do not let Christmas tree light bulbs touch anything that can easily burn, such as paper or fabrics.
Always switch Christmas lights off and unplug them before leaving the house or going to bed.
Test the batteries in your smoke alarm every month – and ideally more often – and never remove them.
Never leave burning candles unattended.