Every year, my family sets up an artificial Christmas tree and we spend a few hours hanging up various homemade and store-bought ornaments, as well as adding other details such as lights, a tree skirt, and other accessories. My family never put a whole lot of thought into decorating a Christmas tree with low vision, because I was often the one deciding how the tree should look and how to arrange things so that I would be able to see them. When a reader reached out asking me for tips on decorating a Christmas tree with low vision, I started thinking about how the various choices I have made to make trees easier to see and also fun to interact with safely for people with visual impairments. Here are my favorite tips for decorating a Christmas tree with low vision, based on my own experiences living with vision loss.
Where should I put the Christmas tree?
There’s no one location that I can recommend that works best for people with low vision, but the Christmas tree should be away from high traffic areas and not in a location where it can easily be bumped into or tipped over. We put our Christmas tree next to a window, pushed back from other walking paths, and would try to keep presents contained to the tree skirt so that they wouldn’t topple over and create an obstacle.
Use different colored lights for each tree section
I’m not sure how this happened, but one year we unpacked the pre-lit Christmas tree and discovered each segment of the tree was glowing lights in a different color- the top of the tree was white lights, while the bottom half was rainbow lights. I actually liked the tree this way, because it was easier for me to see the different sections instead of just a giant mass of lights.
When I was living with roommates, one of the lighting designs we used for our Christmas tree was to have each segment of the tree have different lights- one was red, one was green, and one was white. We ended up changing to a different light design after a day or so, but I found this easier to see than mixing up all of the different colors.
Avoid twinkling or rapidly flashing lights for photosensitivity
I experience photophobia and photosensitivity, which is described as an adverse reaction to bright lights and flashing/strobe lights. Lights that flicker faster than a car turn signal/blinker can be disorienting for me to look like, and rapidly flashing lights can be a migraine, seizure, or vertigo trigger. I prefer to use lights that fade slowly between colors or that have a slow moving effect.
Use tactile materials for ornaments
One of the benefits of having the artificial tree is that I can easily press down on the leaves to feel the individual texture of each branch, instead of worrying about getting leaves everywhere. To make the tree more interesting to touch, we have ornaments made out of interesting materials like crochet yarn, soda cans, and round ornaments with raised or tactile details on them. One of my friends covered their Christmas tree ornaments with braille stickers and raised art, writing lyrics to Christmas songs or other festive messages on each ornament in a mix of braille and metallic permanent marker.
Choose bright, saturated colors that pop against the tree
Green ornaments on a green tree may be challenging for someone with low vision to distinguish. Instead, consider colors that are visible against the dark green (or other color) leaves and that can be viewed from a distance. For a friend that had very little usable vision, their family chose reflective ornaments that sparked against the light, which were partially visible for my friend.
Make sure ornaments are secure on the tree
When I was helping my roommates decorate the Christmas tree, I had trouble grasping the thin loops of thread and pulling them securely through the tree branch. If I had time, I would have replaced the ornament hangers with wire or used larger loops of ribbon, but I figured that everything would be fine and I could hang things correctly. Long story short, every single ornament I helped to hang fell off the tree, either by itself, when someone bumped into the tree, or when someone else went to hang another ornament.
This story is not to keep people with low vision from helping with hanging up ornaments, as it’s still a very fun experience! However, it helps to choose ornaments that can be easily secured to the tree, and to position them in a way where they won’t slip off a branch. After hearing about this, a friend who had done the same thing suggested that I place two fingers across the edge of the branch and then hang the ornament behind my fingers so that it wouldn’t easily fall off.
Use different colored or textured wrapping paper
One of the most fun parts of the Christmas tree is the presents underneath it! I worked with a student who shared the story of how they accidentally unwrapped all of their sibling’s presents one year because they had trouble reading the labels for the gifts, and all of the wrapping paper looked identical. One of the strategies my family used to prevent this from happening was to wrap everyone’s gifts in different wrapping paper- for example, my gifts might be wrapped in a shiny red paper, while my brother’s might be in a matte textured green paper.
Other tips for decorating a Christmas tree with low vision
- One of my friends with no usable vision/light perception would decorate their tree with light-up ornaments, which their family would turn on for Christmas eve celebrations
- Another option is to incorporate scented items for the tree, such as scented garlands or candy cane/peppermint scented items. Essential oil would be a great way to do this for Christmas morning
- Want to learn how to describe or write an image description for the Christmas tree? Read How To Describe A Christmas Tree