16 Dec2013


There must be a million ways to decorate one’s Christmas tree and I sincerely doubt there is a “right” or “wrong” way… But every year, around this time, I get several comments or private emails asking how we do it in our home. So for those who are curious, here are some tips off the top of my head. Ask more questions in the comments section and I will do my best to answer them.

Our Philosophy — Stick to a color theme and build on it from year to year… our tree has been evolving for some 18+ years and we have silver, red, crystal or glass ornaments and we only use white fairy lights. This year’s tree probably has some 400-450+ ornaments in total.

Fresh vs. Frozen, este Artificial? — If I had my druthers, ONLY fresh, but that’s not possible in Manila for the most part. For many years we had fresh Batangas pine trees (a 14-footer for the Teen’s first Christmas!), then we had short imported trees from S&R, and finally, for practicality, I bought a 9-foot artificial tree from Landmark — it was their floor sample at the time. I have begged folks at S&R to bring in fresh 9-10 foot trees but they insist the smaller ones are higher profit margin, so my quest for a fresh pine ceiling scraper are for naught so far. I note from newpaper reports that Solaire Casino brought in 15-20-foot fresh trees this year so it isn’t impossible, I just have to find their same importer or customs clearance person… :) If buying a fresh tree, remember to saw off the bottom of the trunk, put it in lukewarm water with lots of plant food so the tree smells and lasts longer.


Location — If I could pick the perfect location for a tree, it might be an entry foyer to a large home, where the 12-14 foot tall tree would be visible from ALL SIDES. The living room perhaps off to the right, and the dining room off to the left, so the tree would be visible from several rooms. Floor plug outlets would be just below the base of the tree. If you watched the Downton Abbey Christmas special, I like the tree they had, though it was sparsely decorated. The tree is the focal point during the holidays in our home… if I could replicate a wonderful nativity scene like the one my mom used to do each year, I would have that too, but I don’t own a creche and have a trip to Italy to a small town known for its creche figurines on my bucket list…

Lighting — I “apprenticed” with my brother-in-law, who was quite particular about the lighting on their fresh Christmas trees in New York. It had to have an “inner glow” — not too few lights that the tree was dark, not too many that it shone too bright. I have to admit, our own trees these days tend to be significantly brighter. You cannot just throw the strings of lights on, they must be purposefully placed on the branches, taking care to conceal much of the wiring whenever possible. For a large 9+ foot tree, we typically use roughly 1,500 tradtional fairy light bulbs, but the one in the photos here used 2,000 (I was away when the lights were installed) and it’s a bit too bright for my liking. Too much lighting also generates a lot of heat, not to mention the electric bills in this month of skyrocketing electrical rates.


Ornaments — try to stick to a theme, so your tree looks somewhat coordinated. We have medium and large silver balls (glass ones that are painted are the best, though they shatter to smithereens when they fall to the floor. We also have bright red balls, matte red balls, and decorated red balls. We have mirrored balls, and red-colored mirror balls as well. Hang one type of ball and finish hanging all of the same type before moving onto the next ornament. This will allow you to evenly distribute the same type of ornament around your tree. Step back constantly to check out the tree from afar. We have a range of ornaments from PHP5 SM sourced items, to perhaps $30 handblown eastern european glass beauties (two dozen of which I once handcarried home from Paris). It isn’t about the cost, it’s about the place you acquired them, the reason you fell in love with them, the memories they will evoke.


We have several iconic “Radko” pieces or ornaments, and many similar type pieces that are made in China. They are colorful, intricate, young and beautiful. Kids love them, parents hope to amass them at discount prices… :) We have purchased most of ours in the days AFTER Christmas when department stores in the states take 50-70% off. Others were presents from Sister and some from friends. If money were not a consideration, a tree with say 200 Radko ornaments would be SPECTACULAR, if not a bit over the top.


Here’s another piece, aren’t they terrific? In our home, Mrs. MM, the Teen and I pick out ornaments when we come across them, at any time of the year. We add a few pieces each year, sometimes extravagant, sometimes not. But it means that the selection of possible pieces grows and grows over time. We have perhaps another 100-150 ornaments that were not used on this year’s tree.


Balance and Intensity — Keep stepping back and review critically. The tree must be seemingly randomly decorated, yet possess a clear BALANCE of ornamentation. Personally, I like it to be well garbed, with ornaments going all the way to the trunk if possible. I don not like highly farmed Christmas trees that are bushy and only require ornaments on the outer surface of the tree.


Ont the left, very modestly priced red mirror “disco” balls from SM. To the right, hand painted ornaments from China, 1/10th the price of original Radko designs.


We sometimes get the “annual” Christmas ornament from crystal purveyors such as Tiffany, Baccarat, Waterford, etc. If I am not mistaken the tree above is Waterford. We only buy one ornament of this type each year if we happen to be traveling during the holiday season… And the one above needs to be cleaned…hmmm.


I have also purchased dozens and dozens of locally blown glass ornaments such as these deer in different sizes, icicles, balls, etc. from a literal “hole in the wall” on New York Street in Cubao — Liman enterprises. One year they did the marketmanila ornament that I used as a giveaway for folks that donated to a feeding program we sponsored.


A tiny candy cane from Tiffany’s…


…glass ornaments from Liman…


…several more glass icicles or hanging pieces that make the tree look like it’s “dripping” melted ice or snow from afar.


A bit of fun and whimsy. A bit of personal work (the Teen made several ornaments as a kid) and we bought others at charity auctions. All of these ornaments hang all over the tree. The backside is not ignaored. The one type of ornament I am still searching for is something to put o the branches that sit up, rather than hang below. My parents had some small little white doves that did just that. En masse, with say 100 per tree, they would add ornamentation above the greens, rather than hanging from the greens.


We keep tons of Christmas wrapping paper under a guest room bed. That means we use dozens of different designs for wrapping up gifts, and we tie a ribbon on just about every single present.


Beneath all the presents is a large velvet Christmas tree “skirt”.


Once the tree is completed and lit, we turn it on every night until we celebrate Three Kings in January. It graces our holiday dinners, it shines on frantic last minute wrapping of presents, it illuminates a snoring labrador. Sometimes, late at night or very early in the morning. I sit alone in our living room with a cup of tea and just stare at the tree. It’s a very special time to reflect about the year that’s just passed and the next year that’s about to begin. I hope your Christmas tree, large or small, fancy or simple, brings you as much joy this holiday season.

Note: A few weeks ago, I took a poll of Zubuchon office staff to ask what kinds of Christmas trees they had at home. I was quite surprised to find out that many didn’t even put up a tree, while others had very small ones due to space and other considerations. I had mistakenly assumed that every Pinoy household would have a Christmas tree… but that just isn’t the case. So off to the department store we went, and I got a large 9 foot tree for our office crew to decorate and enjoy this year and next… And we bought a modest 18-20 inch tree for each staff members’ office desk. They are modestly decorated trees, but everyone seems to have naturally felt compelled to “make it their own” with more decor and a few more balls here and there. The trees are theirs to take home before Christmas, so that each and every one of them will now have a tree at home this year and beyond. :)



  1. Vivienne says:

    Very nice ornaments collected over the years. These surely add character and dimension to the tree, bringing with it stories and memories. Merry Christmas, Mr. MM and family!

    Dec 16, 2013 | 11:44 pm


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  3. kristin says:

    reading this post made me teary-eyed….it made me miss the pinoy extravagance on decorating and celebrating the season, supposed to be coming home this time (missed 10 xmases,to date) and while winter is in the air in this place i am in, being stuck at the hospital while doctors won’t allow you to make travel plans because its a major health risk is not pleasant at all……but from the posts of the parol, the poinsettias, the lists, and the tree — deep in my heart the warmth and memories of childhood christmases are kept alive and remembered…thank you MM, Merry Christmas to you,Mrs.MM,the Teen and the Staff…

    Dec 17, 2013 | 1:10 am

  4. Lou says:

    What a wonderful gesture to your staff MM. Your generosity and thoughtfulness is super. Merry Christmas and have a wonderful New Year.

    Dec 17, 2013 | 1:20 am

  5. natie says:

    Oh, MM! Your tree is SO beautiful! As always.. I love the tree I could take out every year. The balance and symmetry is almost always perfect.
    p.s. I started all over again from almost zero, after the Sandy flood. I started with red and silver. This year, the tiny lights will just have to dominate..

    Dec 17, 2013 | 6:52 am

  6. jay p says:

    you Sir a very thoughtful and considerate employer. God knows if it would ever happen but I wouldn’t mind working for you (or even someone like you) someday.

    Dec 17, 2013 | 8:45 am

  7. becky says:

    “The trees are theirs to take home before Christmas,…” this made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.. thank you :)

    Dec 17, 2013 | 8:53 am

  8. ami says:

    Beautiful tree you have there MM. For ornaments that can sit on top of branches, you need to find ornaments that have wires at the back which you can twist around the branches. We have some gold pine cones and holly branches with wires that we got from Landmark and National Bookstore some years ago.

    Dec 17, 2013 | 9:28 am

  9. Khew says:

    OK, so the trick is to have the fairy lights placed somewhat internally. Noted!

    Dec 17, 2013 | 9:32 am

  10. Mimi says:

    Love, love, love the tips! Thank you very much!
    I do need to collect more ornaments, but as you said each piece should have some meaning behind it. I think I also need to add more lights because I only used one box which barely reached the top. Do you put the lights from the bottom spiralling upwards? I plugged it directly to the wall then worked the lights from bottom up.

    Dec 17, 2013 | 11:54 am

  11. redberry80 says:

    Love your Christmas tree always….ever since I discovered your blog.

    Dec 17, 2013 | 3:12 pm

  12. MP says:

    My mom makes a big production of setting up her chirstmas tree. She asks her grandkids to help her decorate as early as mid-November. I went to see her in October this year and she wanted to set up her tree before i leave. Ang aga! I miss her terribly after reading this post.

    And i love the last sentences in this post. Everyone should have a tree, if only to remember what christmas is all about.

    Dec 17, 2013 | 4:58 pm

  13. ling says:

    how i long to go home for the christmas season! home is really where the heart is and the christmas tree is @ HOME.

    for this year, me and sis spray-painted the “7-foot green artificial christmas tree” with “white” to make a snowy effect, and themed it “blue” — blue flowers, blue balls, blue lights, blue ornaments — complementing the very cold weather up-north — it was lovely to look at.

    in our unit in the city, i don’t have any decors, maybe because i don’t call it my home, it’s more on a “house,” since, me and hubs, just eat, bathe, sleep here [the toddler is in the province with the lolo and lola].

    for me, a christmas tree — is a must in our home!

    naragsak a paskwa Mr. MM!

    Dec 17, 2013 | 6:48 pm

  14. Papa Ethan says:

    Sorry, i just couldn’t resist: there’s an excited photographer in the center of the Christmas ball in the second picture! I always get a kick out of seeking out the “human interest” in any photo of a reflective surface. Just like those famous Larry Alcala editorial cartoons of the 80s where you patiently sought out the cartoonist’s profile in the maze of detail, or the hidden Mickeys in Disney clips. It gives the shot a very real grounding and a sense of authorship. =)

    Dec 17, 2013 | 9:34 pm

  15. natie says:

    Um hmm–the silver ball, Papa Ethan..20/20 vision!

    Dec 17, 2013 | 11:37 pm

  16. Marketfan says:

    Hi MM, nice tree and nice tips.
    Note to inventors: I hope you come up with “wireless” Christmas lights so we don’t need to hide them. We just have to hold a remote control to light up the tree.
    Merry Christmas!

    Dec 18, 2013 | 12:23 pm

  17. pixienixie says:

    Wow Papa Ethan, keen observation! I actually scrolled up and looked at the pic again to see for myself. :) And like Khew, I also noted that trick for the lights. I think I’ll have to remove our ornaments first before I can reposition our Christmas lights, though…..

    Our Christmas tree is way more modest compared to what MM has, and it’s sparsely decorated. Improvement na nga from last year when we had but a handful of ornaments since we just bought our first tree. I told my daughter that the reason other homes have “fully adorned” trees is they’ve been buying and collecting decor for years. It makes sense, then, that ours is still a bit bare because we’ve just started “building” ours. :)

    Dec 18, 2013 | 5:48 pm

  18. Marketman says:

    pixienixie, we once bought fresh pine trees and decorated them with just white fairy lights… no other decor at all. But we had several trees… and they looked pretty nice… :)

    Dec 18, 2013 | 11:17 pm

  19. ysa says:

    as i read through the tips, i find myself saying “yep. i do that.” alternating with “oh, so that’s how its done.” thank you MM, i find that your tips reiterate what i am doing right and at the same time, learn new tricks.

    Yes, a christmas tree is a must in our home too. Each year, when we were growing up, i always find creative ways to have a tree in our home. One year it was a walis tingting, another year, some cartolina on the wall.

    And, BTW, i still have those glass christmas hangings that i got from MM .. :-)

    Merry Christmas MM, Mrs. MM, and the Teen, and the Crew!

    Dec 20, 2013 | 12:26 pm

  20. sophie says:

    wow oh wow! what a lovely tree!
    Merry Christmas MM, Mrs MM, the Teen and the Crew!
    Merry Christmas to all MarketManila Readers.

    Dec 21, 2013 | 11:49 am

  21. Kasseopeia says:

    We don’t always have a Christmas tree, especially in my teens, because of space considerations. We once lived in a house with a spiral staircase in the middle of the ground floor. We decorated that with wreaths, balls, lights, and all that jazz. It was our “Christmas Stairs”. :)

    MM, you getting a tree for each employee made me all warm and fuzzy inside. I can just imagine their kids’ faces lighting up!

    Dec 23, 2013 | 12:48 pm


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