Ankle biters — small children, ornery puppies, and curious cats — don’t always mix with holiday decor. In my house, the toddler isn’t so much an issue as our two-year-old mutt. He drinks water from the Christmas tree stand (among other unsavory places), has no qualms about going waist deep into branches and vintage glass ornaments to retrieve who knows what, and will “unwrap” anything that smells like it could be food in 10 seconds flat. So a full-size tree with gifts tucked underneath is out of the question, at least for a few more years.
Luckily, spending a decade as a broke 20-something in a handful of cramped Brooklyn apartments forced me to get creative with my holiday decor over the years, so I have plenty of tricks for making a home feel festive — and even a little magical — from the waist up.
If you’ve been putting off putting up your decorations, here are a few kid- and pet-friendly ideas to get you started.
Fresh pine boughs are a quick, easy, and super-trendy way to make a home holiday ready. And you’ll still get all the pine-scented, needle-dropping nostalgia of a fresh tree. Drape them over doorways, windows, bookshelves, and on the mantel. Leave it bare or add string lights. You can use nails or tacks, but Command hooks make easy work of it. Depending on the age and grabiness of your children and/or pets, you can drape the sides all the way to the floor or cut it off around eye level. You can find fresh greens at most hardware stores this time of year, and even at Trader Joe’s!
Remember those paper snowflakes you used to make as a kid by folding copy paper into four and cutting little triangles out of it? It turns out they actually look really cool in your windows as an adult, since they’re minimal and super festive. Spend an afternoon crafting snowflakes with your kids (or an evening crafting them by yourself with a glass of wine) then put them up with scotch tape to transform your home into a magical winter wonderland.
balls, balls, balls
Before I ever had room for a Christmas tree, I would hang varying sizes of gold and silver glass ball ornaments from the ceiling with different lengths of fishing line. They look fabulous in a foyer or hallway, but also work in a window or along the edge of a wall that could use a little oomph. This is my all-time favorite Christmas decor! It’s a little time consuming, but it’s pure magic when done well. I use vintage bulbs, but glass or plastic balls from the dollar store work just fine, too!
wine bottle “trees”
Who says your Christmas tree has to be in the shape of an actual Christmas tree? (The holiday industrial complex, that’s who!) Mix it up this year by putting larger pine branches, or even a collection of sprigs, into repurposed jugs or wine bottles, or something less breakable if they’re within reach of the kids. You can do one really big one, or place smaller displays around your house. (You get a tree! And you get a tree! And you get a tree!) Leave them bare or let the kids decorate their very own little Charlie Brown trees.
a table tree
If you still feel your holiday won’t be complete without an actual tree, consider a table-top version this year. You can still get a live tree, it will just be a little smaller than you’re used to. I found that an end table wasn’t quite tall enough to keep my tree safe from the ankle biters last year, so I used a round vintage bar cart. The bottom shelf was perfect for stashing small gifts and everything was just perfectly out of reach.
If you're looking to include your little ones in the crafting, pull them up to the kitchen table or breakfast bar with the Fresco high chair and let them create their own seasonal masterpieces with white paper collages and silver and gold markers or paint. If you're feeling motivated, you could even frame their artwork and give it a gallery spotlight near the festive decor or in the entryway. (Or if they're just a little too young to participate, dock them in the Coco Go bouncer so they can get a full view of all the decorating action.)