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Tree decorating tips from Claudia Abrahamson

String lights from the bottom of the tree to the top. Wrap lights around branches from the inside of the tree to the outside and back inside. For an artificial tree, string the lights as you assemble the tree, section by section.

String lights from the bottom of the tree to the top. Wrap lights around branches from the inside of the tree to the outside and back inside. For an artificial tree, string the lights as you assemble the tree, section by section.

* To choose the color of lights, consider how the tree will be decorated and what colors will be on the tree. White lights work well on many themed trees. Abrahamson uses white and red lights on her Santa tree, blue and white lights on a tree decorated with crystal and cobalt glass ornaments and multicolored lights on a tree decorated with vintage hand-blown glass balls.

* Hang the largest ornaments first on the bottom two-thirds of the tree. Then hang mid-size ornaments on the middle two-thirds followed by small ones on the top two-thirds.

* Tinsel garland is difficult to attractively drape. Instead, use strings of beads. Cut them into three lengths and attach them together at their ends to create necklace-like swags. Attach an ornament hook on each end and hang them on the trees instead of garlands.

* Check to see if lights are working before you put them on the tree. String an illuminated strand to insure even lighting throughout the tree.

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Storage

* Don't wrap individual ornaments. Lay them in layers of crumpled paper in a box or plastic container.

* Place heavy ornaments on the bottom of the container and light, fragile ones on top.

* Use clear plastic containers for quick identification of contents.

* Pack ornaments, lights and tree skirt for each tree together in one box to make decorating easier next year.

photos by JUSTIN HAYWORTH / NEWS TRIBUNE

Color is the theme for some trees, such as the blue and crystal tree strung with white beads. Her 1950s tree started with an "I Love Lucy" ornament, some Ty poodles and a pink tree that Royal found for her.

"She loves her trees and the good-natured ribbing she receives from those of us who are 'tree challenged'," says Patty Netzel, a friend in Lakewood Township. "She exudes the spirit of the season and all are welcomed into her home on Christmas Eve."

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Thirty people gather in the Abrahamsons' 12-by-20-foot living room on Christmas Eve among nine trees, including four 6½-foot trees and a 9½-foot tree decorated with vintage blown-glass ornaments.

"I think it's beautiful," Netzel says of the trees. "What she does is not about the trees, it's about the people. She does it more for us than for herself."

Father loved Christmas

Abrahamson says she got her love of Christmas from her father. Growing up in rural Duluth, her family's holiday was simple, with one tree and a few other decorations. Each year Abrahamson and her two sisters would eagerly wait while their father strung the lights on the tree, put the angel on top and hung a green glass ball that had belonged to his mother. Then he'd sit down and say, "OK, have at it" and his daughters would decorate the tree.

Abrahamson's ornament collection started in 1973 when she and her two sisters moved into an apartment and received ornaments from their parents. Over the years, she couldn't resist buying ornaments that caught her eye, and many were packed away until 1992 when she and Royal finished building their house. They put up two trees that Christmas -- but that didn't last long.

"The more I dug, the more ornaments I found, and the more trees I put up," Abrahamson says.

As she divided her ornaments into categories, themes such as snowmen and toy soldiers emerged and she bought more to build on the themes.

"I can't go into a store and not go through the Christmas stuff," Abrahamson says. "Sometimes there's nothing that catches my eye, and sometimes I go home with half a cart full."

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Friends and family have added to her collection of ornaments and artificial trees.

A holiday lesson

For years, Abrahamson strove for perfection in her holiday decorating. She'd decorate each tree herself to be sure the lights were strung just so and every ornament was in its best spot.

"I tried so hard, wanting it to be like the magazines," Abrahamson says. "No matter how hard I tried, it was never good enough. Everything was beautiful, but it wouldn't be good enough. I felt like I couldn't do the perfect Christmas."

Abrahamson would cry through Christmas and then be fine.

About seven years ago, halfway through decorating, her disappointment was building. Then she had a dream that changed everything. In her dream, her father walked into her living room and said, "You sure know how to decorate for Christmas."

When she awoke, she understood why she couldn't make Christmas perfect. It was because her father, who died in 1981, was not there.

"It's not that it's not good enough, it just wasn't the same," Abrahamson says. "Dad was gone and I was trying to make Christmas perfect."

Now she welcomes other people's help in decorating the trees and no longer needs perfectly arranged lights, garlands and ornaments.

Decorations for each tree go in one box that's stored near that tree on built-in shelves on the second floor of the family's garage. When it's time to decorate, trees are assembled and each box is placed by its tree. Visitors, especially her son's friends, can decorate a tree when they visit. Abrahamson makes a party of it.

"I'm not obsessed with it anymore," she says. "Now, it's fun. Even trees that aren't perfect are gorgeous. They're still beautiful and it doesn't matter what you have on them."

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