My wife and I have long disliked the idea of cutting so many trees for the holiday, and though we both love the scent, the tradition, decorating with ornaments that have been in our families for generations and the "realness", we just couldn't keep bringing home a cut tree. A brief tangent; two years ago we did bring home two root ball tress so we could replant them, but the tree used inside was not able to hibernate properly through the winter due to the warmth inside our house and did not make it after we replanted it outside.
SO - Back in 2000 we came up with the idea of the "Tree -Less" tree, here it is in a nutshell...
Step 1: Make a Base
In order to spread out the base of the cone shaped by the lights into a circle at the bottom, I just pinned a two foot long piece of string to the center of a piece of cardboard, tied a pencil to the end and drew a circle. Then I just cut the base out. We then covered the base with red fabric.
You can use anything you want, wood, aluminum, what have you. Be creative. You can even make a corner if you want to put your tree in a corner, or a hemisphere to go against a wall. Try a square! The important thing is to secure the lights in place around the edge. We used safety pins to pin the lights through the fabric and cardboard. You will need to run the string down to your base, attach it, run it across the base by your desired space, attach again, then send it back up to the top - sort of like lacing a shoe.
Step 2: Hang the Lights
The basic premise is simple; string your Christmas lights in the shape of a tree from from an overhead point , plug them in and decorate. The pictures you see here were from the first tree-less tree we made. I chose the chandelier in our dining room and strung the lights through, plugging into an adapter that adds an outlet to the light socket. You can hang from anything that will bear the weight, and plug in wherever convenient. A wall sconce, a rafter, whatever.
Step 3: Decorate!
This is the best part, and I will leave it mostly up to you. We simply hung our ornaments from the strings of lights by poking the hangers through the twisted wires. We have done tons of variations on how and what to connect to the light strings, depending on what the tree is hung from, how big or small, narrow or wide, tall or short, etc. It has been almost as much fun as a real tree, but without cutting down a live tree, no paying for it, no needle mess, no hauling a tree home and disposing of it later. To save space in our apartment that year we put the gifts inside the tree and stacked them up, which made an impressive lighted tower of gifts. After Christmas you simply disassemble it all, pack it up and store for next year. Cost for us was $ Zero. We also painted one the the light switch plates fro that apartement and have taken it with us ever since, and connected to the light switch that turns the tree on and off, every year since.