18 October 2017Last updated

Features | Reportage

The low-down on putting up a spectacular Christmas tree

The real Christmas trees of the UAE have taken a long journey from the north to arrive this weekend, discovers Natalie Long

Natalie Long
30 Nov 2016 | 09:00 am
  • Source:Shutterstock Image 1 of 3
  • The Raffles’ six-metre tree in 2015.

    Source:Supplied Image 2 of 3
  • Last Christmas’ lobby decor at Jumeirah Beach Hotel

    Source:Supplied Image 3 of 3

Whether you chose a desktop mini tree, an artificial tree with built-in lights (guilty!) or a soaring, scented Balsam fir, we can all use some inspiration for what we put on our Christmas tree. The grand displays found in the UAE’s hotel lobbies have some of the most stunning decor to be found anywhere. We tapped into the minds of the people behind the grand decorations to find out how they do it, and how we can get a touch of it at home.

Krystel Irani is Raffles Dubai’s director of rooms, and handles the six-metre tree put up each winter.

‘It takes us two full days to set up and decorate our Christmas tree, and over seven hours to attach the hundreds of decorations. It is a long process and we have to be methodical with our planning and preparation as you can’t make last-minute tweaks and change the placement of a bauble once everything is in place, like you can do at home. We always put the star on the tree first and then decorate down to ground, which is different to the traditional way, where the star is the last thing to be put on.’

While most hotels will use an artificial tree, at home, a real one is a plus.

‘A natural tree is always my first choice, as it has an amazing fresh scent and is the most traditional and authentic festive option,’ says Michele Millot, Jumeirah Beach Hotel’s housekeeping director, who manages their annual festive decorations.

‘However it can be costly, especially in the UAE, and requires constant maintenance, and cleaning up the needles can be a pain. Transporting the tree home can also take a lot of planning. Artificial trees are definitely more cost-effective and new ones on the market can look almost as good as the real thing.

‘They require no maintenance and are also a safer option as the majority are flame retardant, unlike the real option. However, some can look very synthetic and obviously require storage space.’

Artificial trees offer a better canvas, adds Irani. ‘They have a more even shape and you have more control to create a beautiful look.’ Here, the designers share their tips for bringing festive grandeur into your own home. You don’t need to splash out, they both agree. ‘Work with what you and have and be creative,’ says Michele. ‘Simple touches such as a colourful wreath or some classic votives can go a long way. Get inspired and enjoy the magic of the festive season.’

What are the main things to consider when starting to decorate?

Krystel: The placement of the lights and decorations on the tree are very important to the overall look, so always think about the spacing so the tree looks balanced and harmonious. Consider the blend and contrast of colours that you are using, I suggest choosing a couple of signature colours and working with different tones and textures in this palette to create a sophisticated but striking look. Also have in mind the style and decor of the room where the tree will be situated.

Are there any rules?

Michele: Choose a spot to display your tree in an area that is out the way where it won’t get damaged. Find a theme and stick with it – it could be anything from a favourite colour or even an animal or character that you love. Matching festive decorations to the decor of the room can also look really chic.

Be sure to set yourself a budget for your ornaments and stick to it – the festive season can be expensive with gifts and entertaining. With a bit of creativity you can achieve a show-stopping festive display that won’t break the bank.

What are the must-haves on a tree?

Krystel: A shining star at the top, beautiful angels on the branches and fabulous presents underneath. Michele: I’m also a fan of a tree skirt to pull the finished look together.

What about beyond the tree – how can we add a festive touch to other parts of the home?

Krystel: Table decorations are an area where you easily add a festive touch with centre pieces or floral arrangements... fill a glass bowl with garlands, cinnamon, baubles and decorations. I am a big fan of fresh poinsettia. The rich red colour is wonderfully festive and it’s a simple and elegant way to add a Christmassy touch to your home.

What’s the biggest Christmas tree disaster you’ve ever faced?

Michele: It was at home and I had placed the ornaments on the tree first and then climbed a ladder to add the topper.

I lost my balance and not knowing whether or not to save the tree or the star, I chose the star and ended up with the tree on top of me, broken ornaments and also a broken star despite my best efforts to save it. Needless to say, I won’t be making that mistake again anytime soon.

The tree buyers

The UAE’s Christmas trees have started to arrive – but where did they come from?

As Friday found out this week, Denmark, mostly.

Thousands of real trees make their merry way to the UAE every year, to be put up in homes around the country, with many of them sourced from the Scandinavian nation. Spinneys’ stock arrived on November 21, the first of three shipments that will total over 1,000 trees for sale.

‘Now we source directly, so it’s a shorter chain, and fresher quality,’ says Robert Quak, Spinneys manager of flowers and plants, aka Mr Christmas (aka Mr Valentine’s by February).

His stock is two-thirds Nordmann fr, ‘the tree that we are used to in Europe’. Want your tree to smell nice? He also brings in Balsam and Fraser firs, both of which have a pine-y scent.

While the UAE’s warm climate may seem incompatible with a Nordic tree, ‘the tree is really strong’, says Quak. He recommends keeping it at a stable temperature, as does Lito Dimaculangan, Dubai Garden Centre’s general manager.

Fresh trees – including the Nordmann from Denmark – go on sale there from December 5, and with proper care, he says, they can last a whole month.

Sustainability is important, says Jumeirah Beach Hotel’s housekeeping director Michele Millot. ‘For anyone buying a real tree I would always recommend choosing a sustainable Christmas tree farm, as they will replace the tree they cut down with a new sapling to ensure a steady supply year after year.’

Quak says he works directly with farms that follow this practice; Dimaculangan says the Centre uses an exporter that doesn’t specify the source of the trees.

How to care for your fresh Christmas tree

Your tree can last a whole month if you care for it well, says Dubai Garden Centre’s Lito Dimaculangan. Here are his tips for tree survival.

Do put it in a tree holder (available from most tree sellers) and keep it watered. Or use your own pot; you must add sweet and, and keep it wet. (Sweet sand is a special sand for gardens, which is not salty. Don’t use desert or beach sand.

Don’t put it directly in the flow of air conditioning. However, it is nice if it is in direct sunlight from a glass window.

Decorating your tree, step-by-step

  1. Hang lights first from top to bottom, pushing them on to the branches to hide the cord. You should aim to have an even spread of lights throughout the tree.
  2. Place garlands and ribbons around the branches.
  3. Add your topper – whether it’s a star, bird, angel or a big bow.
  4. Place ornaments throughout the tree – again making sure they are spread evenly. Heavier ornaments can be used to weigh down branches where needed.
  5. Place blanket/tree skirt at the bottom – this is particularly useful if you are opting for a natural tree as it can collect needles.
  6. And finally, have fun! It’s the festive season after all.

Natalie Long

Natalie Long