It's not like I've never had cats, even young cats, around a Christmas tree before. Until Brynna died a year and a half ago, there've been cats in my house pretty much every day of my life, so that includes every day with a Christmas tree. We've long since had a policy of lining the bottom of the tree with the unbreakable ornaments, and the ones we wouldn't mind losing, while saving the more important ones for higher up.
But this year, the new cats we got a few months ago are proving far, far more difficult than any other cat I've ever had in my house. This has been true in pretty much every regard: they're more naughty, more blasé about being squirted or chastised, more rambunctious, and made getting used to the dog a far more difficult and time-consuming process than any I've experienced before. So I'm not wholly surprised that they're a lot worse at the Christmas tree than in past years.
I prepared for it in a few ways. First, I put some strings that harness the tree to the wall at four points, so it's highly unlikely that the whole tree can get knocked down even if it's pounced onto or climbed into. We also made even more of a point to give them sacrificial ornaments to play with on the bottom in hopes that'd keep them from going to higher ones. We've been trying to make a point of catching them any time they're anywhere even near the tree to spray them, and when we catch them at it, they don't get away with a little spraying; I'll pursue and spray until they have no question about how bad it is.
I've also been trying to emotionally prepare us for losing ornaments. The fact is, our "special ornament every year" tradition just exacerbates the already-present concern that, if you invest any sentimental, emotional importance to things that are innate fragile, you're bound to eventually have to deal with losing one. In addition to the ornaments we've bought to commemorate the years, we've got several that are sentimentally connected to Siobhan's family in various ways, some of which are even more fragile. I always try to warn Siobhan that we are going to lose ornaments eventually and we should be prepared for that. They're just things, and while it's nice how they mark moments in our lives, if we lost one, the moment would still be marked, not be forgotten. I tried to crank up the intensity of these emotionally-preparing warnings this year since it seemed we were switching from "it's inevitable it'll happen some year" to "it's inevitable it'll happen at least once this year" but there's only so much you can push this kind of idea.
Nevertheless, the morning after the first day the tree was up, the cats not only knocked down several ornaments, they broke two. One was a pretty purple globe that had no particular sentimental importance, but the other was one of three antique glass blown balls that Siobhan got from her grandmother. Later in the day they knocked down the 2006 ornament and broke one leg off it, but I was able to glue it back on and it looks good as new. It seems there are no precautions which can prevent this entirely.
So for now, we've taken down all the ornaments that are particularly breakable. We'll buy some inexpensive, rugged, throwaway ornaments to decorate with in their stead. We hope this will be a temporary solution, but we're not sure what the permanent one will be. One possibility: some kind of spray that repels cats, sprayed liberally on the tree. If something like that works, and doesn't smell so awful that it's worse than the problem it solves, we might just douse the tree in it. Another option: maybe they will only be like this a year or two, so we can just go without the fragile ornaments a few years and then go back to normal. I also keep trying to think of some way to screen the tree so they can't climb up into it or get to the ornaments, but given how good they are at leaping, I'm afraid screening the bottom risks just making things even worse. Some days, I'm tempted to just lock them in the basement (though they'd probably blow up the house by playing with the water heater or something).