WHEN ARTIFICIAL, shiny aluminum Christmas trees were first manufactured in the late 1950s, their appeal was not that they were reusable, environmentally friendly and easy to store, but rather that they were sparkly, space-age and chic. Millions of these trees were produced from 1958 to 1969 in New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and elsewhere, with the largest models, which stood 7 feet, selling for about $25. The trees gradually fell out of favor and were relegated to attics, basements and garbage heaps.
Aluminum trees were not the only artifical substitutes for the ubiquitous evergreen. Feather trees were popular for many decades, and other charming trees were fashioned from wood, complete with carved branches. And I have seen many vintage trees made from fringed tissue paper glued to wooden dowels.
Now it seems that artificial Christmas trees are all the rage again. They are indeed a lovely alternative to fresh evergreens, and a sensible response to environmental concerns. No tree needs to be cut down. No tree has to be thrown away or recycled.
Personally, I have always preferred aluminum, feather or paper trees. I've been delighted to find more of them over the years in antique shops (I found a mother lode in Portland, Maine), as well as new interpretations of vintage examples in fancy shops. Instead of costing $25, these trees, old and new, can now sell for hundreds of dollars. Then again, field-grown evergreen Christmas trees, which last just a couple of weeks, can be costly as well.
I've set up quite a few trees around my house. In fact, even the hallways are bedecked with glittery trees. Setting them up is pretty simple, but fluffing and straightening the boughs, which have been stored in boxes or tubs, takes awhile. Still, this initial primping really enhances the final appearance.
Once the trees are plumped, I hang the ornaments and try to make each tree a statement of color-coordination within its space. Aluminum trees look really great with balls and swags in one or two colors. Feather trees allow for a bit more diversity and can hold hundreds of ornaments if carefully arranged. The new glittery trees with complex branches look better themed and more monotone.
I have never put electric lights on these trees. I understand from my research that they were not intended to be illuminated with string lights but instead by a rotating, light-reflecting color wheel at the base. I haven't found any such wheels, but I don't think my prettily decorated trees need additional embellishment.
This year, I will be using bronze trees in my dining room, with silver tinsel and vintage red ornaments. In the living room, I plan to set up silver trees. The trees will be filled with green and turquoise ornaments and bead swags that I've collected. In my bird room, I want to use the big green-and-blue aluminum tree I found in Maine. It will be covered with golden ornaments and golden tinsel swags.
Artificial trees don't shed needles, don't need water every day, and are reusable and versatile. They come in many colors, including white, gold, blue, green, pink, red and bronze.
I will always use these trees, and I agree with this sales pitch from a 1960s Sears catalog: "Whether you decorate with blue or red balls or use the tree without ornaments, this exquisite tree is sure to be the talk of your neighborhood. High-luster aluminum gives a dazzling brilliance. It's really durable and fireproof. You can use it year after year."
For a glittery star tree-topper how-to, and more ideas for holiday crafts and decorating, visit marthastewart.com/holiday-a-to-z.