A No-Tree Christmas Tree


More often than not lately, we haven't put up a Christmas tree.  This is not some grand environmental statement (Christmas trees are, after all, a perfectly fine agricultural product and you can even buy organic ones in some places)–it's more a lack of time and organization and motivation. And some years, one of us is motivated but the other is not–and transporting and installing a Christmas tree is a two-person job.

But then, at some point terribly late in the season, like five days before Christmas, I start feeling bad about the lack of holiday cheer around my house, and I find myself wishing I'd done something.  I run out in search of a wreath, a poinsettia, some garland, anything.  It occurred to me this weekend, as I was driving past the empty tree lots in search of any kind of holiday something-or-other, that maybe I should come up with some sort of non-tree that we could decorate every year.  Not an artificial tree, because I hate those.  But something vaguely plant-ish that would be fun to decorate and could be an easy one-person job in case only one of us had the time or interest to get it done.

I found the perfect thing online–too late this year, but I'm seriously considering it for next year. It's called the possibiliTree, and it's made right here in the USA.

Cool, huh?  But it was too late for that this year, so I headed off to the crafts store in search of whatever sort of thing I could stitch together with pipe cleaners and glue guns and glitter.  Honestly, I had no idea what I was looking for.  I did know that I was channeling my great-grandmother, a woman who actually married into the family after my grandmother's mother died, but who somehow managed to implant her DNA in us regardless.  She was the person the whole family revolved around, the one who kept tabs on all of us and kept us together and seemed to understand us all. 

You would expect the matriarch of the family to be the keeper of traditions, but she was weirdly un-traditional when it came to holidays, always showing up with barbecue when a turkey was expected, piecing together decorations out of shoe boxes and gold spray paint and pine cones in a way that was very pre-Martha Stewart and like nothing that ever came out of a kit or a magazine.

Anyway.  Let's skip ahead.  I wandered the crafts store in a daze, picking up the 70% off holiday decor items, wandering down the non-holiday aisles, and–well, here's what I came up with.


Branches!  Lights! Big vase!  It actually looks better in real life than it does in this photo.  Makes quite a statement in the room.  I limited the ornaments to birds, plants, and bugs. (yes, I have a lot of bug ornaments.)

Then, in the dining room, I took these kind of cheesy 70% off holiday decor items–little white wire trees strung with clear plastic beads and lights–and stuck them in flower pots crammed with florist foam. Sort of garden-y, but not.  And I did manage to scatter some wreaths and garland around the house, so it at least smells like a tree.


It's really quite lovely, especially considering that it only took a couple of hours to throw together.  And I think my great-grandmother would approve.

What are you people doing?  Real trees?  Fake trees?  Non-trees?  No trees?


  1. Looks gorgeous!

    We do a tree, but for the last five years, I’ve created a mini-sweatshop in the house, forcing my kids to make their own ornaments out of Sculpey or to paint little wooden cutouts.

    We now have an entirely handmade tree. I love it.

  2. I’ve never seen anything uglier than that first photo – the one it was too late for you to get. Your own creation, however, is strangely appealing and likely means more to you and your family than the purchased one ever would.

  3. I love it! I want to have a real tree, but at the same time can’t be bothered. I like that your ideas only took a short time to execute! For now, I have a small white (fake) feather tree from Martha Stewart that my mom gave me, but I still have to put it up! I’m going to do it tonight.

  4. I like your branches with little lights and the gardenesque theme ornaments. I have a love of pine cone ornaments which I’ve collected over the years so I have a small artificial tree that only has glass pine cone ornaments with a few glass acorns. It’s topped with a little owl. Some years this is the only tree I put up, but this year we have a larger artificial tree. Time, energy and age have made me let go of getting a real tree. I use candles in a scent called Sugared Spruce to get the fragrance I want. White poinsettias and white roses give me holiday cheer also.

  5. I really like your branches-in-vase-with-lights-and-ornaments thingy. Definitely great-grandmother material. We do not do a tree, or anything with ornaments, though I have a box full of wonderful wooden ornaments from Germany that I think about getting out sometimes, but never do. Each year my disgust with The Christmas Machine grows higher, and we are to the point where we just stay out of the stores as much as possible and try to forget it. We do not participate in a franchise religion and don’t have kids, so we mostly skip the whole thing. My husband’s birthday is Dec 21, though, so we celebrate Winter Solstice/Birthday with some ado. In addition to my gifts to him, he always gets me a gift, as I do for him at my birthday in August.

    My ultimate winter fantasy is to get through an entire ‘holiday season’ without hearing a single Christmas carol. Don’t get me wrong, I love the old carols, but am just sick of them after decades of having them rammed down my throat in more or less horrible renditions. Maybe if I could go 10 years without hearing them, I would love them again? That being said, we do have a single strand of colored lights on our house and joyfully embrace the Return of the Light at this time of year.

  6. In the Kansas City area a local conservation/restoration group, Kansas City Wildlands, hosts an annual cut your own Eastern Red Cedar(Juniperus virginiana) event. While native, these trees also invade the prairie biome which surrounds us. These trees are cut from public parklands in an effort to restore the remnant prairies.
    They make wonderful Christmas trees while helping to restore our ecosystems.
    The rest of the year is devoted to garlic mustard, shrub honeysuckle, Japanese honeysuckle and wintercreeper.

  7. I had to laugh when I saw your “tree.” We have almost to a tee the exact same thing at our house. Monica put a bunch of willow branches in a large vase and decorated it with colored lights. Really, it’s almost identical to yours.

    Same reason as you, we just didn’t have the time or energy to do the traditional thing. Anyway, we are far from traditional having used a Harry Lauders Walking Stick for a tree in years past.

    Must be something in the nor Cal water. Merry Christmas.

  8. I like your branches with lights. You said it looks better than the photo, but I think it looks pretty awesome in the picture too.

    I do not put up a tree although I don’t have anything against Christmas trees. There are three reasons I don’t do one: 1) My kids are grown/out of the house, so it’s just me, 2) Christmas trees are expensive, and I just haven’t fallen in love with fake trees…but I have seen maybe one or two I’d allow in the house. (I do own a very small antique-y metal tree.) 3) They take time to put up, decorate, & take down, and there’s only me.

    However, I do have a leg lamp and my kids consider the leg lamp as our Christmas tree. The leg lamp is home-made and is similar, but not the same as the one in the movie, A Christmas Story.

    It was made 10 years ago when we received an unexpected bill for $1,000 due immediately before Christmas. (I know Christmas isn’t about presents, but when you have young children, it becomes more complicated.) With the $1,000 bill due, I got depressed so to get out of my blue funk, I made the leg lamp. I laughed my tail off making it and so did my kids.

    Ever taken a leg shopping to find shoes for it at a thrift store? Gone through a drive-thru with a leg sticking out of your back car window? Taken a leg through Home Depot in a shopping cart to learn how to wire it like a lamp? It was fun & funny, and it mas made cheaply.

  9. LOVE your beautiful branch-tree in a vase! Every time I try to do something like that it looks just horrible.
    Since my daughter started to walk, we’ve started a cut your own tree expedition tradition. Every year I say I’ll put all of my assorted ornaments on my tree, but I end up just using all one color of glass ornaments and some lights. I like the simplicity
    I try to find another way to display the personal ornaments, like hanging them from a piece of twine stretched across the top of a wide doorway or against a blank wall. They get even more attention there. The possibiliTree is a great alternative!

  10. I like your non-tree tree. We almost always have a live tree. When we bought our rural property fifteen years ago, one of the first things we did was to plant a number of seedling pines to be harvested as future Christmas trees. This year, we cut what I have been calling The Great Insane Christmas Tree. Comparisons to the Griswold tree have been plentiful. It’s huge. Huger than huge.

    To decorate the tree, I hauled out all of the 1950’s vintage Shiny Brite ornaments that my family had used when I was young. I have to say that seeing those old ornaments on the tree makes me very happy.

    The big question will come next year. The remaining trees from the first crop are too big, and I intend to press them into service as a windbreak for the beehive I am getting next year. The second crop, planted three years ago, isn’t quite there yet. I guess we have 11 1/2 months to figure this out.

    Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to all!

  11. I like your branches and little lights. We do a live tree. Husband insists on a live tree. A large live tree. I get sick of all the holiday stuff so usually it is up two weeks before Christmas and down on New Year’s day. Some people watch football, I remove all evidence of the holidays. Not this year. Son and girlfriend are coming in after the first of the year. He has not been home for The Day for several years. I am leaving the tree up for him. I don’t think he cares, but I do. Christmas is gong to be spread over a long period.

  12. We have a live blue spruce in a 20″ pot. There have been several trees over the last 10 years- when they get big we get another small one. This year’s is very “Charlie Brown” We usually bring it in the weekend before Christmas and leave it in until Jan 6. We water it with ice cubes to keep it from breaking dormancy, and it lives in the pot outside the rest of the year. I should have brought it in yesterday- it snowed last night, so the dolly tracked in snow, and we have to wait till the branches dry off before we put the lights on.

  13. I like the creativeness of the twinkle lit branches and the way you table-scaped your dining room table.
    Martha and your grandmother would be proud.

    We set up the trusty rotating foil tree that my partner’s family has been setting up since the 1960’s.
    So I guess you could say it is truly sustainable and high on the recyclable list.
    We estimate that it might just have it’s 50 birthday this christmas. Happy Birthday + Merry Recycling.
    Michelle D.

  14. I haven’t bothered with a tree in the house since the kids grew up. This year, I got a small living tree. It’s out on the front porch. I decorated it with some of the hand made ornaments I did when I was young and poor. I added some variegated holly around the the base, my fifty year old Santa Claus bank, a red candle, and a basset hound sleeping on a rug that happened to be the same scale as my Santa. I also have cyclamen on the porch (they come inside if it’s going to go much below freezing.) They’re hardy enough to stay outside most of the time in zone 8. Inside, I have Christmas cacti in various colors, but with an emphasis on reds and whites. I used to get a poinsettia, but the cyclamen and cacti don’t have to be replaced every year.

    Your branch arrangement looks very cheerful and seasonal.

  15. Since my partner is a horticulture professor and does research on poinsettias our house is always filled with them (none of the spray painted one, thank gawd). Of course he leaves to spend the hollerdaze up north with his folks, leaving me to water and care for a houseful of live plants. I also volunteer to be the lone worker so that the co-workers can spend time with their kids which means I get to work long hours and have very little free time to deal with any sort of decorations or real tree stuff. So far he hasn’t caught on to the mass suicide in the poinsettia collection each winter while he is away. I can only do so much.

    Each year I dream of putting a christmas tree out in the garden (not planted, I can’t give up the space it would require) where it would be easier to keep happy and watered. I dream of eco-friendly decorations and lots of bird seed.

  16. I have a large variegated perhaps faux “holly” bush in a big pot that I am bringing indoors for a few days. It has no berries, never does. But is bright and shiny and impressive. Maybe red lights? Or red bows and white lights? May not be a true holly, but I have other wild red berry plants here in the mountains I can accessorize it with.

  17. I’m from Iowa where red cedar is native and yet somehow still invasive. It likes to “colonize newly disturbed areas” like fields and pastures.

    My family does their part every year by going out and getting prickled cutting down a little red cedar from an obliging ditch. Then we wrestle it into the coffee can with cement in the bottom and wear gloves to decorate it. I looks quite nice when it’s finished. Usually more of a lopsided oval than a cone shape when it’s installed. But that’s tradition around here.

  18. If it were just up to me I’d have that suspended Minnesotan tree. I love it.

    One year, when I had more control over such things and I lived in a high rise apartment, I put thumbtacks, in the shape of a big tree, on one large wall. Then I strung green yarn around each tack. I cut out red paper balls, maybe construction paper?, and taped them here and there inside the tree. I liked that tree.

  19. Pretty, Amy! I love it…

    We usually get the cheapest Doug Fir on the lot.

    I didn’t know growing up that my family got non-sheared, skinny Doug Firs because they were cheap – I thought our family just had a preference for the open-branched ones.

    Now Christmas just doesn’t feel the same with one of those fancypants Noble Firs or worse, a blue spruce (the spruces don’t even SMELL right). They look pretentious next to a beautifully scraggly unsheared Doug Fir.

    And hey, you can see ALL the ornaments on my tree at once! I call that a plus.

    Trevor wanted to put up the Holly “tree” in our garden for Christmas(really a bird-dropped seedling that I’ve been pestering him to agree to remove), but when he heard he’d have to put all the ornaments on the prickly thing himself he backpedaled pretty quickly.

  20. We have a little 3 foot tall real tree, but after we bought it we could not find the stupid tree stand! Then, my husband had a stoke of genius. He pulled some dying cactus out of a terrarium and stuck the tree in the jar. He added a bit more sand to stabilize things and it looks way cool! So much better than a tree stand.

  21. I have been feeling SO un-Christmasy this year, but Amy’s post made me feel so much better — I love the little lighted trees on the table!

    My husband loves his Christmas tree, although the last few years we have reduced it to a tabletop live tree, just for the scent and the lights. But my favourite is a little 2 foot artificial tree which I bought many years ago in another time and place. It’s a little dogeared and tatty, but it is just the right size for a single string of white lights and the precious Russian miniature ornaments that I bought almost 50 years ago when we lived in the USSR. That’s my Christmas totem, and otherwise there’s a wreath of greens from the garden, a long red table runner from Yugoslavia with candles and greens arranged on it, and little candle lights in the window. Pedestrian, I suppose, but familiar and dear to us.

  22. In Colombia where I grew up, most people just find a tree branch (without leaves) spraypaint it white, silver or gold and decorate it. It’s rather beautiful.

    We don’t have a tree this year either. I do put out a nativity set or two and garland and lights on the outside of the house. I’m happy with outdoor decor.

  23. Lovely tree! I’d like to try that one year.
    We don’t do a tree every year. I go out and cut boughs from trees that edge the athletic field on a local school campus, pruning the thicker growth. This year I found most of my greenery on the ground: a number of fir and cedar boughs that had been blown down in a storm. Also a derelict building has overgrown holly bushes that I cut boughs from: but that ended badly when I tripped over a snowy curb and bloodied my knee.
    I do like having some fresh greenery in the house because it smells lovely, but I think the willow branches is a great tree alternative.

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