Going un-green for the holiday

December 22, 2007|By Tanika White | Tanika White,Sun reporter

If the author of the holiday carol "O Tannenbaum" were to see Ted Frankel's Christmas tree, he'd surely be baffled.

"Thy leaves are so unchanging" has no meaning in Frankel's Midtown living room. There's nothing green to see.

That's because Frankel's tree is bright red -- branches, lights and all -- and glows like a fireball.

Frankel says the colorful, 7-foot tree mirrors his big and vibrant, zest-for-life kind of personality in a way no traditional green tree could.

"Red is a power color; it's the color of love," says Frankel, the owner of the American Visionary Art Museum's Sideshow gift store. "And it's nice to be different. You don't want to be like everyone else. It's much more fun to be unique."

More and more, holiday-shoppers are going the Frankel route, choosing trees -- and tree decorations -- that express portions of their personalities or beliefs, instead of echoing traditions of generations gone by.

The funky Christmas tree company Treetopia, which sells brightly hued trees, upside-down trees and palm trees decorated with Christmas lights, has seen sales of its nontraditional trees grow in recent years, says Carrie Chen, the San Francisco-based company's vice president of marketing.

"The majority of our sales are these colorful, quirky trees," Chen says.

Creative eccentrics buy purple trees to match their purple walls, Chen says. Classy modernists order all-white trees. Chic, black trees go to those who want to make a statement. And the company has almost sold out of its "cute, but sophisticated" pink tree, Chen says -- to all those lifelong girly-girls out there.

Even those who buy traditional green trees look for ones that will say something about who they are, says Peter Bieneman, general manager of Green Fields Nursery and Landscaping Co. on Falls Road.

"I've been doing this almost 20 years, and definitely personalities come through" during the selection process, he says. "I've learned that over time."

Customers who come wanting the nursery's magnificent 10- and 12-foot trees also tend to pick the blue-bottomed Fraser fir, with its piney aroma and branch structure and coloring that look "like you pulled it out of a box," Bieneman says.

"These are the people who are real perfectionists. They're the people who take about a day and half to put lights on and then another day and a half to put the ornaments on," he says.

Then there are those who clamor for "fluffy" white pine trees, Bieneman says. Their long, lashlike needles enhance the glow of lights strung inside. "Those are the people who have a warm personality," he says.

Personality types not only influence the kinds of trees people buy, but also the way they decorate them, experts say.

From using popcorn strings and kids' photographs to incorporating themes, color schemes and political statements, there are as many ways of decorating trees as there are recorded versions of "Silent Night."

"For most of us, a tree is a sort of a Christmas scrapbook of our memories," says Lisa Benenson, editor-in-chief of Hallmark Magazine, who has ornaments made of Styrofoam and peas -- because her son made them for her -- on her very traditional tree.

Based on her tree-decorating style, Benenson is most likely a "guardian," one of the four basic personality types, says Kip Parent, the CEO of Personality Zone.com. Guardians love tradition and keepsake ornaments, while "artisans," such as Frankel with his red tree, value "showing off a bit," Parent says.

George Medici, vice president of media relations at the public-relations and marketing firm Porter Novelli, is one of those showoffs. This year, Medici spent close to $2,000 decorating his carnival-themed Christmas tree with mechanized decorations, including a roller coaster, Ferris wheel, bumper cars and a big top.

"I guess you can say I'm a little obsessive-compulsive," he says. "But people know the reason I do it is to get everyone together."

Special-event planner Megan Graves and her husband decorated their traditional Douglas fir with all things Barack Obama-related.

"We really wanted our tree to say something and have a message, rather than a bunch of flashing lights and ornaments that don't mean anything," says Graves, 27, of Reston, Va.

The couple's tree is peppered with campaign buttons fashioned into makeshift ornaments and skirted with an American flag.

The Graves family would be considered "idealists," Parent says, referring to those for whom everything on the tree has some kind of meaning, regardless of color coordination, tradition or what anyone else thinks about it.

Thankfully, Parent says, most of the population -- about 75 percent to 80 percent -- are guardians and artisans -- those who value tradition and/or care that others are moved by their splashy holiday decor.

"And that's really what makes the holiday spirit," Parent says, "the people that carry the traditions forward."


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