Pages from the Hartle Playbook: Oh Christmas Tree

I recently saw a question on a listserv for blind parents asking how one decorates a Christmas tree as a blind person. A pretty reasonable question I thought. Sadly, she had never had the opportunity to help with this before, or been shown or figured out any alternative techniques for herself. She was concerned about safety issues as well as aesthetics. So, since this is something that we as blind people do, I shared with the list a reply to her post. I thought some excerpts from my post may be of interest here in showing some alternative techniques we’ve used in doing this.

WE actually have a pre-lit tree, just because they are so convenient whether you are blind or not. But, I used to have a regular tree and my husband who is also blind, and I would put the lights on ourselves. It’s really not that difficult to decorate the tree as it’s all hands-on. Usually, we can just feel the branches and decorations to make sure they are placed correctly. But, there are a few things I’ve found that can help.

Hanging Lights and Garland:

When we used to put lights on our tree, my husband and I would pass a coil of lights between ourselves with either of us on a side of the tree. You want to make sure the strands are evenly spaced out, which you can do by feeling where the strand is running. You can put the strands back deeper in the branches close to the trunk of the tree (or pole if it’s artificial) so that the strands aren’t showing that much. Before you put the lights on though, run you’re hands down the strands to make sure there are no bare wires exposed no fraying, and no broken bulbs. It is probably a good idea to have a sighted person check the strand before too if you can’t see the lights just to make sure the light bulbs are all working and that none have burned out. Sometimes you can run your hand across each bulb and feel if they are hot, but this takes a lot of time; or if they are small lights, sometimes the heat from the lights on either side can make a burnt out bulb still feel warm. It can also be a pain to keep the strands from becoming tangled during this process,(which even sighted people struggle with) so having someone look at the whole strand briefly to make sure it is working can be helpful.

When putting the strands of lights on the tree, just make sure you space each strand out and move it up the tree a few inches at a time. You can do the same thing for garland. Just go back around after you’ve wrapped the tree either with lights or garland and make sure you weave the strands in and over and under the branches some with your hands so that it doesn’t look like you just tied the tree up. You want the lights and garland to look more draped or looped over the branches.

You may want to use your arm or hands to measure how far apart each of the strands of lights around the tree are separated from each other—so as to keep them more evenly spaced apart.

Hanging Ornaments:

These are a lot easier to put on the tree than the lights and garland in my opinion. With these, I usually divide the tree into sections and decorate a section at a time. This way you can make sure not to over decorate a part of the tree and make sure your ornaments are evenly spaced out. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but this seems to help keep our tree from looking really crowded in one place and bear in another. I tend to divide my tree into four sections like a front, back, right, and left side. I then work from the top to the bottom in each of the four sections. I’ve even divided up my ornaments so that I have the same (roughly) amount of ornaments in each section. WE tend to have bulbs and then some specialty ornaments, so by dividing the ornaments into piles or groups first, I then have better chances of distributing them evenly around the tree. I then decorate one section, like the front for example, with one of the groups of ornaments. I tend to put our favorite or most special ornaments that I want to be seen better into the pile that is going on the front of the tree–the part of the tree that is facing out to your living room the most, or wherever most people will see. If you are displaying your tree in a window where your neighbors will see it, you might want this to be your “front” section. Anyway, this strategy has seemed to work well for me. Then, as I’m decorating each section, I can feel where I hang ornaments and then place them a few inches apart. It’s not a perfect measurement, but I spread my hand out like as if I was making a hand print, and then touch one of my outside fingers to an ornament and then where the other outside finger is is where I place the next ornament. This way, I can kind of guide my placing of ornaments down the tree. I start at the top and work down to the bottom rather than just randomly hanging the ornaments so that I don’t miss a spot or put too many ornaments in one place. If it’s helpful, you can even place a chair or something around the tree to use as a border to mark off your sections while you are decorating so that you don’t go over a section while you are working on that section. AS you are also hanging the ornaments, you want to make sure that the ornament isn’t resting against a wire from the lights, or a light bulb so that you can minimize your risk of the ornament melting or causing a fire–worst case scenario. Same thing with garland. It’s pretty easy to check around to see if anything is touching your ornament before you finish hanging it. I hope that makes sense. I actually haven’t put garland on our tree for a few years—mostly because I haven’t found one I liked yet—so instead, I’ve been using this idea I got from a craft store display tree where they draped long ribbon down the tree instead. This design has also proven to be helpful in decorating our tree as it provides a marker or divider on the tree itself which I now use when decorating to divide the tree while I’m hanging ornaments. I have four curled strands of thick Christmas ribbon coming down from the top of the tree and cascading down the tree. Basically, it is two long strands of thick ribbon (the kind with the fine wire on the edges so you can shape it) which I divide in half. Where the fold in the middle is, I make a loop and place it around the tip of the top of the tree (where your tree topper/star/angel/etc. will later go. Then, I drape one side down the front, and one side down the back. I do the same thing with my second strand of ribbon and put it on the left and right sides. When I hang ornaments, I used these ribbons as my dividers. Then, when we put our tree topper on, the ribbon kind of looks like a bow on a package, except the bow is the tree topper. It looks pretty good apparently as I’ve had complements on using the Christmas ribbon instead of garland.

Since our tree is pre-lit, there are so many lights that I think the garland could look cluttery anyway if not done the right way. Using the ribbon is really easy too. It’s kind of hard to explain but I hope this makes sense. I just mentioned this as one way you could divide your tree. Again, I did this because visually it looks pretty, not to help me decorate though, or to get out of using garland which can be hard to space around a tree nonvisually. .

Since Christmas trees are supposed to be visually appealing, it may be helpful to have a trusted friend or family member check out your tree when you’re finished decorating it just to make sure things look visually pleasing –ornaments are spaced out well and wires are hidden, etc. I’ve even Skype called my mom before and showed her the tree to get her opinion and have her point out any things I need to fix to make it look better. AS far as safety issues, I think if you are proactive and checking where you place things as you go, you shouldn’t have any problems.

Good luck. !

So, there you have it. Not a perfect science, and I’m sure other blind people out there have other, even more effective techniques, but hopefully this at least illustrates that it can be done. . On a slightly related note, this year since it’s our first year in a house, we are thinking of hanging up outdoor lights in our yard and on our house. I have yet to figure out how to do this initially, let alone as with any alternative techniques (if necessary); but if we can find some for a reasonable cost, and if I can convince my husband that decorating is fun, and if I can just figure it all out, then I’ll hopefully have a post for you on that too.

Merry Christmas!


2 thoughts on “Pages from the Hartle Playbook: Oh Christmas Tree”

  1. Great suggestions! My family was not much into the Christmas celebration. We just bypassed all that and did gifts for children and eating lots of food. You know, the important stuff!

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