I used my discretionary money that had been accumulating and bought my first artificial Christmas tree -- prelit! I love it! We put it up after Thanksgiving and decorated it the next day.
The only thing I needed to buy was the raffia for the garland. (It cost $1.58 at WalMart.) The red twigs came from our dogwood bushes. I trimmed them a couple weeks ago and saved the beautiful red branches.
The berry-looking sprigs are rose hips that I trimmed from a wild bush growing along a canal that I pass everyday when I walk my youngest to school. A few years ago I put fresh spruce cuttings, rose hips and some other berry-looking cuttings above my kitchen cabinets, along our mantle, and above the entertainment center. It was beautiful (and free!) but dried out and was a real pain to clean up. The rose hips, however, are pretty mess free. Ditto the dogwood.
About the cookies . . . Way back when I was in college and dated Dave Fenton, I saw his mother's tree hung with gingerbread cookies with white piping. I loved it! And got the recipe. I didn't marry Dave, but I've been using his mom's Swedish Rolled Ginger Cookie recipe to decorate our Christmas trees since 1995 (maybe even a couple years more). Here it is:
Swedish Rolled Ginger Cookies
1 c. shortening
1 c. granulated sugar
1 c. molasses
2 Tbsp. vinegar
3 3/4 c. flour
2 - 3 tsp. ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. salt
Cream shortening and sugar. Beat in molasses, egg, and vinegar. Stir in flour w/ ginger, soda, cinnamon, clobes and salt; Mix well. Chill 3 hours.
Generously flour surface and roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut into shapes. Place 1" apart on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 for 8 min. (5 to 6 min. if you're not planning to hang them). If hanging, make hole in each cookie before removing from baking sheet. (I use a pair of clean needle-nose pliers.) Let cookies cool completely on wire rack.
For icing: I only use milk and powdered sugar. (This year I added vanilla so that my icing would be off-white to match the raffia.) It needs to be fairly thick so that it won't run when you work with it. Put a large spoonful into a ziplock sandwich bag. Cut a tiny corner off the bottom of bag and use as a pastry bag. Let your kids help! This year I mandated a lot of outlined cookies, but most years we go wild with icing and have a variety of designs on the tree.
This is what my tree will look like by the time Christmas rolls around. You see, part of our tradition is to let the kids eat the cookies off the tree up until Christmas -- one a day. Then on Christmas Eve we take the remaining cookies off and either eat them or leave them for Santa.
Note: I knew we'd miss the smell of pine after years of having real Christmas trees. So I've been looking for a plug-in pine scent to use with our new tree. (Safety Man insists that candles are too dangerous. Even candle warmers don't make the cut for him.) I found the perfect scent at Bath and Body Works. It's heavenly! (If you look closely at the top photo of the tree, you'll see the scentport plugged in at the bottom right.)