When my friend and I went to a Christmas tree gallery at a church, we were surrounded by tons of beautiful trees that came in various sizes and shapes, each with gorgeous intricate decorations and lights. It was overwhelming to see all of the details, and I noticed that I was having trouble seeing what was on each tree, and each tree also had a small gate around it to keep us from getting closer. If someone had asked me how I would describe a Christmas tree, I would say they all sort of looked like big cone shaped colorful blobs.
My friend noticed that I was having trouble seeing the different trees, and asked me if they could help with describing what the different trees looked like, and how they should do so. I was incredibly grateful for my friend’s offer, and we came up with this list for how to describe a Christmas tree for visual impairment, inclusive of low vision and blind audiences.
How Christmas tree descriptions work
When I talk about describing a Christmas tree for visually impaired audiences, there are a few different ways that people can share descriptions. This can include a verbal description when walking through a gallery or decorating a tree at home, an audio description for videos or guided tours, or an image description/alt text that is shared in the caption of a Christmas tree photo on social media.
Another thing to consider is that many people have a mental model of what different elements of a Christmas tree might look like, such as the shape of a pine tree, the color green, and descriptions for different shapes and objects. For example, I know what a star looks like, but I might not know that the star on the Christmas tree is large with rainbow lights and the phrase “Joy to the World!” is written on top.
- How To Create Audio Description For YouTube With YouDescribe
- How To Write Alt Text and Image Descriptions for the Visually Impaired
- How To Create Helpful Visual Descriptions For Visually Impaired Audiences
- How To Write Video Descriptions For TikTok
Start with the foundation- the tree
The Christmas trees at the church are various shapes and sizes, with some trees towering over me and my friend, while other trees were about the same height as we are. When starting the description of a tree, we would describe the tree itself, including:
- How tall it is
- How wide it is
- Its location in relation to where I am standing/where the camera is
- Whether it appears to be real or artificial
- What color it is (artificial trees come in many colors)
- The top of the tree- we would use a top-down approach for Christmas tree descriptions.
There’s a lush dark green tree about ten feet from us that’s seven feet tall that seems to be rather slender. At the top, there’s a gold star that extends towards the ceiling.
Next, describe the lights
A few of the trees we encountered had flashing lights, so my friend would look at the tree to quickly check for flashing lights before telling me it was okay to look at the tree myself, since I have a medical condition aggravated by flashing lights. If it wasn’t safe for me to look at the lights, my friend would mention the following details:
- Light size
- Light color(s)
- Any visual effects
- Any additional decorations that are on the entire tree, like a garland
There are small, twinkling lights on the tree in shades of red, green, and blue that rest on a white garland that wraps around the tree
- Visiting Holiday Lights With Photosensitivity
- How To Check Videos For Flashing Lights
- Flashing Lights and Photosensitivity in the Classroom
Let’s talk about ornaments
Each of the Christmas trees we encountered had a ton of different ornaments, and my friend admitted that they were overwhelmed with trying to figure out how to describe Christmas decorations. I suggested that they mention the following details:
- Amount of ornaments- an exact number isn’t needed, but it can be helpful to mention if a tree has a ton of ornaments or if they are more sparsely decorated
- If they have a particular theme, i.e Christmas around the world
- Common color scheme
- For ornaments that are all the same, talk about the shape of each ornament and if they are arranged by color or pattern- for example, is one row all red, or are the ornaments arranged like stripes?
- If there are several different ornaments, pick 2 or 3 of the most distinctive/interesting and describe those
- Talk about the shape, size, color, and any other interesting details.
The entire tree features ornaments from all around the world that focus on different animals. Canada has a beaver ornament, Australia has a kangaroo ornament that has a joey inside the pocket, and China has a panda ornament that is holding the Chinese flag.
What’s underneath the tree
One of the reasons the trees were behind gates was because there were several decorations underneath the trees, and it was harder for me to look down and see the different details. Helpful things to include are:
- Color and pattern of the tree skirt
- Any interesting visual details or added decorations
- Size and colors of the boxes below
There’s a royal blue tree skirt with a snowflake pattern on the ground. An old-fashioned train moves across the peripheral of the tree skirt. There’s medium-sized square boxes wrapped in gold wrapping paper behind the train.
Asking for additional details
When describing Christmas trees for kids or providing verbal descriptions, it can be helpful to ask the listener if they have any more questions about what the tree looks like, or if there are any other details they want to know about. For example, I asked my friend if there were any other animal-themed ornaments on the Christmas tree that featured different countries, and they told me about a few other countries that they thought I would enjoy, such as New Zealand’s kiwi bird, a toucan for Brazil, and an eagle for the United States.
How do you describe a Christmas tree?
While it may seem like it takes a long time to gather information, the final description should only be a minute long. Here is how my example descriptions all look stitched together:
There’s a lush green tree about ten feet from us that’s seven feet tall that seems to be rather slender. At the top, there’s a gold star that extends towards the ceiling. There are small, twinkling lights on the tree in shades of red, green, and blue that rest on a white garland that wraps around the tree. The entire tree features ornaments from all around the world that focus on different animals. Canada has a beaver ornament, Australia has a kangaroo ornament that has a joey inside the pocket, and China has a panda ornament that is holding the Chinese flag. There’s a royal blue tree skirt with a snowflake pattern on the ground. An old-fashioned train moves across the peripheral of the tree skirt. There’s medium-sized square boxes wrapped in gold wrapping paper behind the train. Do you want to know any more details?
More tips on how to describe a Christmas tree for visual impairment
- Planning a Christmas tree gallery or display? Consider making text-based descriptions of each tree available for visitors online or in a large-print/accessible page. I recommend using Microsoft Sway- How To Use Microsoft Office Sway With Assistive Technology
- I didn’t make my friend describe every element of each tree, and we sometimes skipped sections that I talked about in this post if they were particularly unremarkable, like if a tree had no lights or nothing under the tree
- Learn more about how to decorate Christmas trees with vision loss in mind by reading Decorating A Christmas Tree With Low Vision