It’s Time to Talk Christmas and it’s all About the (Artificial) Tree…
Deck the hall with boughs of holly and a Balsam Hill Christmas tree. Their Festive Fir looks majestic in a Tudor manor
Article by Lara Protheroe
I am not someone who thinks that Christmas should arrive in a van. I love the preparations, decisions and traditions. As the years passed and our family grew, festive rituals evolved and became ever more complex and delightful but dressing the fir tree will always be an annual highlight. We play Christmas hymns and let our toddler put all his favourite baubles around the bottom of the tree. With a small child grubbing around, we took the decision to leave our usual genuine fir tree with all its spiky dried out needles behind us and to try out an artificial Balsam Hill Christmas tree.
Our candlelight Fraser Fir tree arrived in two impressive boxes. The nine-foot tree comes in four sections. It’s incredibly well made and honestly, unless you give it a sneaky touch, I don’t think you’d know it wasn’t real. Each branch is on a hinged metal arm that drops into place. The foliage needs to be arranged and fluffed up (with gloves provided for this process). Wearing the silky grey gloves makes it feel a little like you’re handling a rare exhibit at the British Museum that mustn’t get nasty oil on it from a human hand. The preening of our tree probably took me an hour but it resulted in a full-bodied perfect shape. The whole process was quite relaxing and rather like elaborate flower arranging.
Each section of tree slots first into the base and then into the section below. We’d opted for a prelit model with hand strung warm white ‘candlelight’ bulbs. Once each section is in place you plug in your tree and magically it illuminates with more lights than you could possibly ever be bothered to put on yourself, let along untangle, bulb-check from last year and arrange so precisely and discreetly around the boughs.
Once you’ve decided on the height of the Balsam Hill Christmas tree you’re after, you pick from a vast array of species from a Nordmann Fir to Vermont White Spruce. The trees vary in hue, shape and light type. Your tree can be flat backed to sit up against a wall, it can be candlelit with warm white LEDs or decked out with multicoloured lights. There are slim profile options or full trees with lush branches. They are not only highly realistic but also beautiful simply as feats of quasi-naturalistic engineering. The most realistic trees use the Balsam Hill True Needle technology. The needles are made from a PE plastic material and are made to match the colour, texture and shape of real tree needles. I have to say I love knowing that it’s not going to drop a single needle, and it’s going to look perfect every single year. No sticky sap to pick off your hands and no needles in your foot come June when hoovering under the sofa.
Balsam Hill was founded by Thomas Hartman, who was inspired to start the company by a family member who was allergic to live trees but didn’t want to miss out on the festive tradition. Thomas set about finding a solution that enabled those with allergies to enjoy a tree that would look every bit as beautiful as the real thing without producing any allergens. Balsam Hill is now the number one supplier of artificial trees, with products routinely used on TV and film sets, and in hotels and embassies around the world.
I set up the spectacular fir in a beautiful Somerset manor house, formerly owned by Cromwell’s county magistrate. The grand Tudor hall was the perfect setting for this magnificent tree and I placed it alongside an enormous early Elizabethan Inglenook fireplace. The room is full of warmth and chatter at Christmastime when the oak banquet table is laid and heaped with all the customary delicacies, and a tree on this scale is a fitting focal point for the yuletide festivities.
The tree looked incredible even with just its lights on and I didn’t want to overdress it, so I added a selection of red, bronze and burgundy baubles and some red bells. These subtly reflected the tree lights along with the glow from the fire and the scene was complete. The tree shone even in the context of this impressive and imposing location and was reflected in its entirety in the polished parquet floor in front of the roaring fire.
Luther, our toddler son, wakes up each morning and immediately wants to turn on the ‘chrissie tree lights’. It is a widely held belief that 16th Century Protestant reformer Martin Luther was the first person ever to add lighted candles to an evergreen tree in celebration of the advent of Christmas; so it seems fitting that our own little Luther is so transfixed by our candlelit tree. Now all that remains is to warm some mulled wine, listen to a carol or three and wrap copious presents to lay beneath the lower boughs of this magnificent creation.