Small Space Christmas Cheer

I’ve moaned about the size of Parisian apartments before, but when you live in a shoebox, where on earth are you supposed to put a Christmas tree?!

My last American Christmas was in 2011. I was 20, and I was over it. I clearly remember being bombarded by Christmas music— in the car, in the stores, in my own home. It was merry. It was festive. It was driving me insane. You’d be able to find decorations and assorted Christmas ephemera in stores by October. October. Forget Halloween and Thanksgiving! Who needs those holidays! Once “Back to School” sales were packed up, it was all about Christmas…Christmas spending, that is.

In fact, prior to moving to France, I was beginning to feel antagonized. I began to resent the fact that I was born on December 24th, my birthday eclipsed by Christmas year after year after year. While I still get a bit prickly about my birthday, I’ve finally called a truce. French Christmas is pretty great. Who could resist strings of lights on the streets or sparkly branches hung above shop windows and entrances like a fairy briar?!

Suddenly, December is a magical season of warmth and cheer! The only catch? My tiny apartment. Do I choose my Christmas tree or being able to walk to the sink?! Decorating for the holidays can be tough under normal circumstances, but when you’re already low on available space, subtracting—even temporarily—from your floor space by adding holiday decor can make a major dent in your mood. While I’ve since moved into a bigger space and am barely containing my glee over my short, stubby Christmas tree, I thought I’d offer up some tips for making extra small spaces merry and bright.

Let It Snow

Transforming your apartment into a winter wonderland takes only a few sheets of white paper, scissors, and a pen. Start by trimming your pieces of paper into squares. Vary your sizes for decorative effect. The larger your square, the larger your finished snowflake will be! Fold your square in half, and then in half again. You’ll now have a triangle that looks a bit like a tiny pyramid. Next, fold your pyramid into thirds. You’ll have some overlap, and little “ears” that stick out. Feel free to snip them off at an angle.

Now you’re ready to design! Either bust out your pen to draw a design, or let your scissors and your imagination guide the way! When designing your snowflake, be sure to keep some of the fold connected! This way, you’ll unfurl your paper to reveal a perfectly unique snowflake. When you’ve collected a fair few, use white poster tack to attach your snowflakes to your window. They’re easy to rearrange, so feel free to experiment.

Scented Candles

I’m all about a good scented candle. If you can’t spring for a sapin de Noël, a choice candle is the next best thing to bring Christmas smells chez toi. While I could write a book on Diptyque candles and why they make my heart beat faster, I’ll be the first to admit that they aren’t the most budget friendly. If you’re a candle fiend like me, you’re burning through these suckers pretty fast.

Instead, here are some cheaper selections. I was shocked to discover I was actually okay with this Christmas pine-scented candle from Glade. Miracles do happen. If a fresh cut fir isn’t your thing, vanilla, cinnamon, or even a fancy wood-smoke scent can make you feel like you’re holed up in a wintery lodge.

Mulled Wine

Prior to heading off to Europe, I didn’t really quite know what all the fuss was about. Warm wine? I’d rather not. However, after tasting this miracle brew at the Paris Christmas Markets, I became a believer.

This bright, flavorful drink combines the tangy taste of citrus fruits with sweet, spicy cinnamon. Despite the sophisticated flavor, this warm drink couldn’t be easier to make! The wonderfully sweet scent is a bonus.

What do you need to make this holiday refreshment a reality? A large pot, a ladle, cinnamon sticks, cloves, star anise, sugar, red wine, cloves, a lemon, lime, and an orange. While you could use measurements,  the beauty of this treat lies in the fact that you really don’t need a precise recipe—you cannot mess this one up!

To get things going, combine a third of your bottle of wine with a few scoops of sugar. Squeeze in the juice of your lemon, lime, and orange. Try to avoid seeds falling into your pot, but it’s not the end of the world if they do. Add your cinnamon sticks and cloves to the mix and keep stirring. Once you have a solid base, you can add the rest of your bottle of wine and let simmer. Five minutes before you’re ready to serve, add in your star anise. While these star-shaped spices look lovely, they can be extremely strong. Adding them at the end prevents your final product from becoming too bitter. Be sure to turn down the heat in between serving glasses of your mulled wine or you’ll return to the kitchen to find an empty pot!

Twinkle Lights

A good string of lights will go a long way. While it may be tempting to go overboard with holiday cheer, too many strands can tip your decor from classy to Times Square—hence why I opt for barely-there lights. While I picked mine up at a museum gift shop in London, a simple google search will come up with several options, including some really affordable picks at Hema (for all my fellow Parisiennes out there).

With their flexible copper wires and soft glow, these lights are subtle enough to keep up all year long if you’re so inclined. Since I’ve had my squabbles with the electric company in the past, I wanted to make sure my Christmas lights were battery operated to keep my bill low, and minimize chances of resetting my fuse box every ten minutes. Using a little bit of white poster tack, fix your lights to the desired surface. I always opted for outlining my window frame, as my bed faced the window. Combined with hand-snipped snowflakes, you’ll give your apartment festive flair without impeding movement through the room. Get creative! Employ jars! Wrap them around mirrors. Tangle lights around your potted plant.

Holiday Soundtrack

While there are many Christmas tunes to be had—some artists make an entire living out of rerecording classic holiday hits—some rise to the top. It’s risky to put all your eggs in one basket, so I don’t. Last year, I compiled a 5 hour playlist of all the holiday songs that put a skip in my step. I’ll be honest with you—I love records, but I hate having to stop what I’m doing to flip ’em. That’s where Spotify comes in. While I could debate the merits of Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, and Frank Sinatra (all of whom have produced some killer holiday albums), just do yourself a favor and make a mix. Add your favorite contemporary bands to your Christmas classics. Feeling extra lazy? Steal mine. Just be sure to hit shuffle!


Still feeling like your apartment is missing a certain je ne sais quoi? Take to the streets! There’s only so much you can do in a small space. Luckily, there are parks, shopping centers, ice skating rinks, restaurants, and coffee shops putting their best holiday decor forward for everyone to enjoy!
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