Christmas decorations in living room

Classic Christmas Decorations, Ranked

Molly Grace7-Minute Read
December 16, 2020

’Twas the weeks before Christmas, and all through the neighborhood

People waited to see whose decorations were really good.

The lights were hung on the rooftops in fear

That a shake of the ladder would send them flying like reindeer.

The children were opening their Advent calendars with slight dread,

While visions of tastier chocolate danced in their heads.

And Mama with her figurines and I with my holly,

Prepared for the holidays and hoped our decorations weren’t a folly.

As far as Christmas decorations go, there’s a wide spectrum between Martha Stewart and Cousin Eddie. We all have our favorite Christmassy items we love to display each season, from beloved heirlooms to classy adornments that blend seamlessly with our home’s existing decor. But of course, not all of these items are winners.

Because one of the best parts of Christmas is looking at how other people have decorated their homes for the holiday and silently (or not-so-silently) judging how good a job they’ve done, that’s what we’re going to do here. Bah humbug.

Follow along for our very official rankings of all of your favorite Christmas decorations, using our extremely professional, top-of-the-line and not-at-all-random grading system.

Poinsettias

poinsetta

Beauty: 6/10
Toxicity:
Overstated
Tradition: 7/10
Level of Christmas Spirit: Three stars on top of the Christmas tree
Overall Ranking: 6/10

As far as holiday decor goes, poinsettias are fine, if a little bright for my taste. But how did these native Mexican plants become the flower of Christmastime in the first place?

First of all, poinsettias aren’t even flowers; the “petals” are actually modified leaves called “bracts.”

So, how did this not-really-a-flower-masquerading-as-a-flower become a symbol of Christmas in many places around the world? The same way diamonds became synonymous with engagements and marriage: marketing.

The Paul Ecke Ranch in California dominates the poinsettia market, growing over 70% of all poinsettias sold in the U.S. and holding around 50% of the worldwide market share.

It all started when the enterprising Paul Ecke Jr. took their family farm’s soon-to-be signature crop from roadside stands to the silver screen, sending free poinsettias to television stations to display on air during the holiday season and appearing on “The Tonight Show” and Bob Hope’s Christmas specials to promote the plant.

Thus cemented the poinsettia’s place in the Christmas canon, all because some guy wanted to build a plant empire.

Still, I can appreciate something that has the tenacity to bloom even as the days get shorter and colder (I certainly don’t possess this quality).

If you’ve been avoiding this winter wonder due to its supposed toxicity to household pets, you can rest easy; poinsettias are only mildly toxic to dogs and cats, potentially causing some vomiting or stomach irritation. As long as your furry friends don’t have too much of a taste for household plants, feel free to liven up your space with these wintertime beauties.

Figurines

snow scene with Christmas figurines

Clutter Level: Medium
Creepiness Factor: Varies
Tradition: 8/10
Level of Christmas Spirit: Three stars on top of the Christmas tree
Overall Ranking: 5/10

Christmas is a holiday of knickknacks, for better or worse. While Christmas figurines can be cute or fun, there’s a wide variety of them, from angels to Santa Clauses to little sets of mice dressed as carolers, and some of them are more likely to inspire nightmares than others.

The little gnomes with just their round noses sticking out from beneath their big hats? Adorable. An old fashioned nutcracker figurine? Terrifying.

A small, sparkly reindeer that glitters when the lights from the tree hit it just right? Gorgeous. That definitely haunted Santa statuette with the suspiciously curly mustache and too-jolly smile? I sure hope he doesn’t see me when I’m sleeping.

I’m also not a big fan of decorating your home with a lot of things that take up valuable surface space. Once you start filling up counters, floorspace, end tables and coffee tables with too many trinkets, your place starts to look cluttered, rather than festive (plus, I don’t have anywhere to keep my plate when I eat dinner in front of the TV).

Ultimately, when it comes to Christmas figurines, I could take them or leave them. But if you like them, hey, you do you. Just make sure to not put out too many or they’ll start conspiring against you after you’ve gone to sleep.

Artificial Christmas Trees

pink artificial Christmas tree next to pink couch

Opportunity for Fun: 10/10
Eco-friendliness: Low
Tradition: 5/10
Level of Christmas Spirit: Four stars on top of the Christmas tree
Overall Ranking: 7/10

I love a real Christmas tree. The freshness, the smell, the fear of dehydrating it and setting your house ablaze … for me, it wouldn’t be Christmas without it.

But, in spite of my own preference, I don’t look down on those who opt for a fake tree.

Fake trees can be great. They’re versatile, reusable and come in so many different shapes, sizes and colors that it’s impossible to not find one that’s perfect for your home.

If you’re a traditionalist, you can find artificial trees that look so much like real trees that the casual observer wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference. If traditional Christmas isn’t your thing, fake trees give you the perfect opportunity to infuse a little personality into your holiday decor.

Want a sparkly gold or silver tree? A rainbow colored, Pride-themed tree? A nice pink tree to fit in with your Palm Springs-style decor? All of this and more is possible with an artificial tree.

However, everything that goes into the making and shipping of artificial trees means they aren’t all that great for the environment. You might think they’re the better choice because you’re at least not chopping down a tree, but real Christmas trees are actually the eco-friendlier choice – in part because you’re supporting local tree farmers and the forests they tend to.

Of course, you can cut down on your artificial tree’s environmental impact by reusing it year after year. All the more reason to pick out something fun that you can look forward to setting up each season.

Christmas Lights

Christmas lights on roof

Fun to Look At: 10/10
Danger Factor: 7/10
Tradition: 10/10
Level of Christmas Spirit: Five stars on top of the Christmas tree
Overall Ranking: 9/10

Christmas lights come with a pretty steep risk-to-reward ratio. Thanks to wobbly ladders, slippery roofs and rogue electricity, this category of Christmas decoration is among the most dangerous.

Yes, I’m about to be a huge bummer about one of the most beloved parts of the Christmas season.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (which has, by the way, a wonderfully weird Twitter account), an average of 200 people are injured per day each holiday season while decorating their homes; around half of these injuries involve falls. Many of these incidents happen to people who were just trying to put up some festive lights around their homes.

There’s no denying, however, that Christmas lights – whether they’re strung up along your roof, twinkling on your landscaping or lighting a path to your door – are great for making your home radiate with Christmas cheer.

I’m definitely not suggesting anybody stop decorating with lights. But be careful! You might consider just stringing some lights over your front door, rather than climbing all the way up to hang them from the gutters. If you do hang your lights high up, be sure to use a sturdy ladder and bring a buddy to spot you and hold the ladder steady.

Or, if you just want to get one of those projectors that makes it look like you have twinkling lights covering the entirety of your house, that’s cool, too.

Gingerbread Houses

gingerbread houses with lights in the background

Likelihood That I Will Get Frustrated And Give Up: 98.6%
Family Fun: 7/10
Tradition: 6/10
Level of Christmas Spirit: Four stars on top of the Christmas tree
Overall Ranking: 5/10

If you’ve ever been able to construct a gingerbread house that is structurally sound, hats off to you. But for the rest of us (who are secretly jealous of your architectural abilities), I officially declare gingerbread houses overrated.

Gingerbread house-making always starts off so optimistically. I’m going to create the greatest gingerbread mansion this world has ever seen. A feat of modern architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright, eat your heart out.

And then … a wall caves in a little bit. You tell yourself you can fix it, just a little more frosting will do the trick. But now your gumdrops are melting off the roof. You try to reinforce the structure with anything you can find – licorice, candy canes, pretzel sticks – but it’s no use. Your little gingerbread family will have to file an insurance claim and try again somewhere else.

Christmas-Themed Throw Pillows

Christmas themed pillows

Cheesiness: 9/10
Comfort: Meh
Tradition: 5/10
Level of Christmas Spirit: Three stars on top of the Christmas tree
Overall Ranking: 6/10

People who have seasonal throw pillows have too much storage space. There, I said it. Where are you keeping your out-of-season pillows? There’s got to be a better use for that space.

Look, throw pillows in general are just not my cup of tea. They’re not super comfy (which is a pillow’s main job), they often have cheesy phrases on them (though I do appreciate a bit of cheesiness now and then) and they take up valuable couch real estate.

That being said, throw pillows are nice if you’re looking for a low-effort way to decorate for the holidays. And they are nice to prop up a book on your lap when you’re reading on the couch.

Kitschy Ornaments

kitschy ornaments

Personality: Lots
Fun to Look At: 10/10
Tradition: 8/10
Level of Christmas Spirit: Four stars on top of the Christmas tree
Overall Ranking: 9/10

I love a funky, eclectic Christmas tree. The ornaments on your tree should tell a story about you – including every beach town souvenir shop you’ve visited, every wildly-decorated bauble your kid has brought home from art class, every popcorn garland string you’ve ever DIY-ed.

Kitschy ornaments are fun because they often have a lot of meaning behind them. Maybe the sand dollar with the dog in a Santa hat printed on it is a little silly-looking, but it’s a reminder of your favorite beach destination (and your beloved pooch, who looked just like the dog on the ornament, you swear). The ball ornament with the smudged handprint-turned-snowmen might not be a work of art to most, but it’s a reminder of a time when your tot’s hands were so teeny.

Uniform, perfect trees are boring. Christmas trees should be like the people who decorate them: unique, a little weird and full of Christmas spirit.

And The Winner Is …

All Christmas decorations!

Ha, I tricked you! You thought you were reading an article where a cynical, judge-y Scrooge-type tears down everything that’s good and special about Christmas. Well, I’m not going to do it.

While I have my Christmas decoration preferences and you have yours, the most important thing about this holiday isn’t whose house looks the best – it’s about celebrating in the way that is most meaningful and joyful to you, whether you’re surrounded (socially distanced, of course) by family, friends, partners, roommates or pets, or if you’re just enjoying the holiday by yourself.

And the author’s small heart grew three sizes that day.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, something else or nothing at all, from our family to yours, we wish you a holiday season that is merry and bright. Here’s to a better 2021.

And to all, a good night.

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    Molly Grace

    Molly Grace is a staff writer focusing on mortgages, personal finance and homeownership. She has a B.A. in journalism from Indiana University. You can follow her on Twitter @themollygrace.