Eleven months of the year, Lisa Mackay keeps her house decorated with a minimum of frill. It's warm without being excessive, and while pieces are chosen for their emotional resonance, clutter is never tolerated.
But in December, the boxes come out, stuffed with Christmas decorations that date as far back as her childhood. Mackay will unpack them, put on her holiday decorating music – Christmas Night by the Cambridge Singers – and transform her home into a wonderland covered in red bows, baubles and lots of fake garland. "I don't really restrain myself," she says.
On the scale of over-the-top holiday decor, Mackay puts her house at a seven. "But my husband would probably put it at a 12," she says with the kind of merry chuckle that would make Clark Griswold proud.
This time of year, decorating advice almost always boils down to three words: Don't overdo it. Or these three words: Keep it classy. Put it anyway you like, the translation is the same: Place a few silver balls in an elegant glass flute, hang a wreath on the door and perhaps drape some holly on the mantle if you're feeling wild – but no more.
Many decorators and design aficionados shun Christmas decorating altogether. If you're not entertaining over the holidays or you don't have kids, why bother veering so far from your design philosophy? But others say that the spirit of the holidays calls for draping your home in felt and so much greenery that you'll think you're in an evergreen forest – because that's what the season calls for.
"It's just such a once-in-a-year thing where you really get to dive into your sentimental side and give it free rein," says Mackay, author of the design and decor blog WickedandWeird.com. A mother of two boys, ages 5 and 3, Mackay always decorates her house with lots of bright red, from bows to wreaths to stockings hung by the fire with care.
"The entranceway is always important. You need to have that garland up the rail of the stairs," Mackay says. And, of course, every decoration or Christmas craft your children have ever made needs to be hung on the tree, placed on the mantel or given a home somewhere else.
It's not about following principles of design – it's about giving in to sentiment.
"It's the difference between looking at decorating from an aesthetic point of view or an emotional point of view," Mackay says.
Of course, not everyone is so holly jolly at the prospect of filling their homes with sparkly baubles.
Christopher Jones, founder of the blog StyleNorth.ca, hasn't had a Christmas tree in "many years," he says. "There's enough Christmas everywhere else. I don't need it at home."
But if you feel the urge to transform your home into a gaudy spectacle so excessively bright and cheery that you can see it from Vegas, then don't hold back, Jones says. "If people want to do it, it's great. They should go for it. And the more the merrier," he says.
Don't just fling up some silver bells, though: Put some thought into it.
"Ornament for the sake of ornament alone is something that is really hard for me to get my head around," says Robin Lewis, an interior designer at Elephants Limited in Toronto, and host of Reno vs. Relocate. "Bring the love, however, that is."
Growing up, Lewis's mom would do lots of baking over the holidays for family and guests. "There were always baked goods around the house that were kind of ornamental," he says. "She liked to bake with Christmas-coloured gumdrops. I could endorse that."
There are no baked goods with gumdrops in them at my house – yet – but with two children under 4, one of whom is a craft-producing machine, there will be tinsel and popcorn strung around the tree, all sorts of hideously adorable ornaments made by my kids, votive candles on the mantel above everyone's stockings and Bob Dylan's Christmas album pretty much playing on a loop well into January. Any other time of the year it would be garish and unspeakable – not to mention intolerable – but throughout December it will be wonderful.
Just be ready for the emotional crash of putting everything back in boxes once Christmas is over.
"There's always that depressing day where you take everything down," Mackay says.