Seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtledoves, and a partridge -- in a fir tree. If this sounds like a perfect formula for a Christmas tree, you are probably 1.) a bird-lover, and 2.) already acquainted with the concept of the "theme" tree.
Traditional trees, those delightful amalgams of fragrant evergreen, tinsel, fragile glass balls, homemade garlands and a variety of ornaments collected throughout decades of Christmasses past, have enormous appeal. But you may find that many of the houses you visit this holiday season will sport not a conventional Christmas tree decked with the usual festive hodgepodge, but a thematic tree which expresses the special interests of its owners.
Theme trees are a natural choice for young people who don't have a lot of ornaments and prefer to make a "statement" with a few specially chosen pieces. Empty-nesters who have acquired more decorations over the years than any one tree (short of the White House model) could hold might decide to be selective and choose a favorite theme.
Collectors often put together an assortment of trees to hold, for instance, their limited-edition silver ornaments or their Snoopy memorabilia. But any of us might discover that a certain category of ornament -- angels, say, or cats -- "call" to us at Christmas, and may one day demand a tree of their very own.
The Carroll County Farm Museum in Westminster, where the annual decking of the halls is a big event for both staff and visitors, is not having a Christmas tree this year. They are having eight. Each one is placed in a different room or area of the house, decorated to complement the tree. The trees are the centerpiece of the museum's Christmas open house, titled "O, Tannenbaum," which opened yesterday and runs through next Sunday.
According to Jean Scott, the museum's program coordinator, the entire staff put their heads together this year to decide which themes would best suit the spirit of the season and the decor of the 1852 farmhouse.
"We had so many ideas we had to decide which ones we could use," she says. "Someone wanted to have a tree decorated to represent the modern world -- Bart Simpson ornaments, for instance! But we didn't think that would be suitable for this kind of place."
For the study, they decided on an old-fashioned traditional tree decorated with classic glass balls, many from the personal collections of Ms. Scott and her assistant Kate Van Fossen. "My husband and I are celebrating our 40th anniversary," Ms. Scott says. "There is only one ball left from our first Christmas together, so I put it on the tree."
The other seven trees are all theme trees, each of which emphasizes some aspect of the house's antique architecture and furnishings and the farm's nostalgic pleasures.
In the hallway, where a riding hat and habit hang, the tree is trimmed with the symbols of an English-style fox hunt. Victorian-style valentines and homemade crocheted hearts decorate a "sweetheart tree" in the master bedroom, and scherenschnitte (the German art of decorative paper-cutting) and other festive paper ornaments were the choice for a child's room.
The public rooms have a more formal elegance. The parlor was fancifully transformed with peacock feathers, collected from the farm's own birds when they moult each fall. On the tree, the feathers are combined with flowers, soft pink ribbon and small mirrors to capture their colors and reflect their iridescence. The dining room tree is pure Victoriana, with crocheted ornaments, ribbon, nosegays, flowers and potpourri bags. The theme is carried through to the sideboard and the table setting, which is as lacy and romantic as possible.
In contrast, there's the kitchen's "down on the farm" tree, which symbolizes the farm's bounty with dried apples, bundles of cinnamon sticks and other sweet-smelling edibles, miniature kitchen items and farm animals. And in the log cabin, a "nature tree" is decorated with birds, and with bittersweet and other naturally gathered wild products.
Those who would like a theme tree, but have no special hobbies or fancies, need not lack for inspiration. Buyers and designers for shops specializing in Christmas decor have more ideas than any one person could possibly use in a lifetime of Christmases. At Valley View Farms, according to John Hessler, a manager, about some 200 theme trees are on display, and customers can purchase anything from an individual ornament to the whole theme package.
Several of the stores have decorators who will design a custom tree. "If they can ask for it, we can do it," says Tina Imperial, assistant manager at the Silk Greenhouse in Towson. "People come in with pictures from magazines, and we can duplicate them."