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When it comes to holiday decorating, why more is more

Martin Lindsay’s house in Thornhill, Ont., has many different coloured Christmas lights.


All I want for Christmas is for someone to drive a truck full of tinsel up to my house and dump it all over. Then I'm dragging every holiday-themed ornament my kids have ever made up from the basement: wreaths, ribbons, bows and mismatched ornaments. I'll bring in enough natural material to make my house smell like a pine forest. Holly? Oh, there will be holly.

I will turn my humble home into a holiday wonderland that my kids will go bananas for, friends will flock to for good cheer and neighbours may or may not loathe.

Gaudy Christmas is the best Christmas.

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At this time of year, design magazines will offer plenty of holiday decorating advice, all of it extolling the virtues of minimalist restraint. This results in rooms with a palette of white, grey and gold, along with an emptiness that allows you to pretty much hear echoes – where did Christmas go … go … go … ? All of it is well-meaning. Some of it is mind-boggling.

One magazine recently floated the idea that Christmas is too busy already without adding bright reds and greens to your home, and a decorator said that for an extra-chic holiday she'll be putting up a black Christmas tree. C'mon!

Everyone is free to decorate as they wish – peace on Earth and goodwill to all humankind, after all. But the excesses of the gaudy Christmas – of bauble-filled rooms and huge piles of holly, of inflatable Santas out on the lawn, of macaroni crafts strewn liberally throughout the house – have given it a bad rap. Innumerable blogs trash "tacky" and "ugly" Christmas decorating, and design magazines always advise restraint.

For a brief stretch at the end of the year there should be a chance to put restraint aside. When it starts getting dark just a little after lunch, we need sparkle. And when you finally get to take a break from the routines and pressures of daily life that you've been dealing with all year, putting aside the palette of tasteful neutrals and going for the glitter are just what needed to jump in to the season of merrymaking.

Of course, there's an industry of specialty decorators who cater to the Griswolds among us.

Carolyn Horten, owner and head elf at Christmas Specialists, a California-based company that provides Christmas decorating services, doesn't take every client over the top. But those types of houses where restraint has been chucked and Christmas is big and bright and shiny and everywhere – those houses have an obvious appeal. "It feels real," Horten says.

Some of Horten's clients will make every room in the house a little bit different. "The kitchen is more rustic and the family room is more fun. They theme out the different rooms, so it gives them a chance to use different colour schemes where you can just go totally over the top."

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Some clients will opt for multiple trees. "You might have a living-room tree where that one will be more traditional with golds and reds, and then in the family room there might be one more whimsical," she says.

There is only one tree at my house and it features a heart-warming mishmash of ornaments: felt snowflake shapes, a tree cut out of construction paper that my daughter covered in glitter during a previous Yuletide, two ceramic penguins I have no memory of acquiring, survivors of at least three different sets of shiny balls and all of it wrapped in tinsel. The candy-coloured wreath of Christmas ornaments that my wife made hangs in the hallway and the banister gets wrapped in pine garland and tinsel.

For some, this is just the warm-up act.

"You can get [an inflatable] Santa on a Harley that lights and flashes," says Bill Dowd, owner of Christmas Decor in Burlington, Ont. "You can drive up to your house and tune your radio to a specific station and listen to music in your car and the lights on your home will be flashing on and off, correlating with the music."

This is exactly what the vast majority of interior decorators counsel against. It might be possible to take a pile of over-the-top elements and incorporate them in a way that doesn't come off as chaotic and disjointed, but chances are you won't be able to do it.

Robert Bailey, the head of Vancouver-based Robert Bailey Interiors, suggests deciding on a colour scheme and theme. Are you going natural or shiny? "Choose a direction and hone in on that."

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Of course, even Bailey admits it can be challenging for families with kids to have a less-is-more Christmas. If it's possible, create a kids' room where the little ones can have full rein, Bailey says. "That's a good place to explode Christmas."

Ultimately, says Laura Stein, a Toronto-based interior decorator, you have to make a decision.

"If you want to have a sophisticated look, a curated look, it's very different than when you're going all-out just for the fun factor," she says. "This is a reflection of you, and if that's what's making you happy, then that's what's making you happy," Stein says.

For me, tapping in to the exuberance and excitement of childhood is the heart of the gauche, garish, glorious appeal of the gaudy Christmas. If an all-white room with a single brass ornament displayed elegantly on the coffee table is what makes you merry, then that's how you should decorate this holiday season.

But let's stop trashing the over-the-top Christmas. It's not trying to be great design in the first place. It's trying to remind us how wonderful – and yes, messy and disorganized – the holidays can be. That's why we park outside the house that has enough lights to be seen from space and flock to the homes with halls decked to the nines.

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About the Author

Dave McGinn writes about fitness trends for the Life section and also reports for Globe Arts. Prior to joining the Globe, he was a freelance journalist, covering topics from trying to eat Michael Phelps' diet to why the Joker is the best villain in comics history. He's working on improving his 10k time. More


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