It’s Not All Mary Poppins

The way a tree is meant to be

This post is inspired by this post, particularly point #8, over at Parenting Without a License.

Christmas trees are not designer statements. They are not intended to accessorize your living room. They need not — should not! — be an artfully constructed and carefully coordinated piece of seasonal sculpture.

Christmas trees should be a riotous and meaningful mish-mash of bits and pieces lovingly accumulated over the years, including, but not limited to:

coloured lights, not white. (I am in complete agreement with Kimberly on the supreriority of coloured lights.);

wooden cranberry garlands with teeth marks in them from when your oldest was two and thought they were real berries;

miscellanious salt-dough stars, covered gloppily in red and gold acrylic paint;

multitudes of candycanes made by twisting lengths of red and white pipe-cleaners together;

fragments of felt hand-stitched into a six-inch garland;

and a few cut-up credit cards for the anti-consumer message.

Because Christmas trees, you see, are not created overnight, or even in one season, with a trip or two to the correct stores for this year’s hot items. No, Christmas trees are the slowly-accumulated repository of family history, your family’s seasonal history, down through the years. Each ornament should have a story behind it, should provoke a “remember-when” conversation. Each chip, each rip, each slight smudge and blemish brings a smile, not a frown, for they are evidences of the passage of much life, living, and love.

Some of those best-beloved items are no longer on my tree, but have been taken by my eldest (who made them) to grace her tree in her home. And while I miss them, and notice the empty spots on my own tree, I am glad, for thus the gloriousness of the chaotic Christmas tree is passed on, generation unto generation.

December 23, 2007 - Posted by | Christmas, commemoration, holidays, individuality


  1. While our tree DOES have white lights, it otherwise is very, very similar to yours. Even though it’s only our eldest child’s 4th Xmas, and the 1st for our youngest, we already have ornaments for them with their pictures from each year, plus some of my own childhood ornaments, plus some Mr. Kluges and I have accumulated.

    (I know the Santa climbing the Eiffel Tower is way cheesy, but, hey, whenever I put it up, it reminds me of when we were there together! And the woven/braided straw pinecone? Yeah, that one’s all about the backpacking around Germany we did in the season of wonderful Christmas markets and gluehwein. I figured it was light and could withstand crushing, and now I’m so glad I got it.)

    But something that will always, always make me sad at Christmas is that when my parents got a new artificial tree, one of the boxes of ornaments accidentally got thrown out with the old one… and that box was the one with the antique ornaments from when MY mom was a child. I will now always be looking for a blown glass frog to replace the one that was lost foreve…

    Comment by Ms. Huis Herself | December 23, 2007 | Reply

  2. Hear, hear! While we usually have the “historic” ornaments you mention with white lights, this year our tree is different. It has newly-purchased colorful ornaments and multi-color lights. But the tree itself? Is from 1961, and it belonged to my grandparents. It’s made of aluminum, and was packed in its original box for me to unwrap and use some 40 years later. It’s so cool–I just love it. Photos are here if you’re so inclined.

    Merry Christmas!

    Comment by Sharkey | December 23, 2007 | Reply

  3. Our tree isn’t tasteful either, although I love the (few remaining) clear blown glass baubles that are always put at the top as they are so fragile.

    Also at the top is the blowsy red-cheeked fairy, dressed in a rather nasty green net frock, that dates from my husband’s childhood. Known as the Trollop, she should be given a new dress, but it would seem wrong, somehow.

    Comment by Z | December 23, 2007 | Reply

  4. Well,our tree has limited amounts of those crazy Christmas ornaments that come home from school and are offered up with a big sloppy smile because, well, Pumpkinpie is only 3.5, and we have been having trees together for many years already. So ours isn’t too riotous just yet, although it does still host some cardboard ones I made our first year together, when we were both still in university and had little to spend on ornaments.

    For Pumpkinpie, though, we have started something. Every year, #25 on her advent cabinet holds an ornament. Her ornament. And I have a nice wooden box where her ornaments go, where they will be collected up over the years after each Christmas, so that by the time she is ready to leave home, she will have a nice little collection of ornaments to start her own tree with, ones we collected for her over the years.

    Comment by kittenpie | December 23, 2007 | Reply

  5. I think next year I’ll put up a tree with no ornaments so we can sit and say “Remember that year the dogs at EVERY LAST ORNAMENT from the tree.” Actually we still have and use the homemade star from then, but I’ve since reclaimed chilhood ornaments from my parents.

    Comment by MJH | December 23, 2007 | Reply

  6. I had to give up my large, tacky, tree with our move and I miss it.

    I agree with you completely. Decorating has always been the kids’ job once we got the lights (colored) on. It would never make the cover of Better Homes but somehow I don’t care.

    It was ours.

    A very Merry Christmas to all of you along with my wish for a peaceful New Year.

    Comment by Granny | December 23, 2007 | Reply

  7. This post has made me a first-time commenter here – I agree absolutely! Although we had a fake tree growing up, it was covered with ornaments such as the macaroni angel my brother made in Kindergarten, the plastic ball I covered in glitter in Brownies in Grade 1, and so on. Our tree now is an odd assortment of ornaments my husband and I picked up in our 20s and 30s (including a 20-year-old strand of popcorn) but will definitely include more macaroni angels and salt dough stars as our kids grow up.

    Comment by lisa | December 23, 2007 | Reply

  8. our tree is very much like that. our grandparents have a tradition of giving an ornament to each grandchild every year, with our name and the year written on it somewhere. when we eventually have our own trees with our own families, those ornaments (as well as all the arts and crafts we did over the years) will help us build our own traditions. 🙂

    Comment by Lara | December 23, 2007 | Reply

  9. I am in complete agreement. We already have that tradition. It was how I was raised, and how I will raise my kids. I find those designer trees to be soulless and empty (why don’t I say how I really feel??). Cheers to you and yours this holiday!

    Comment by nomotherearth | December 24, 2007 | Reply

  10. absolutely! and now that my oldest is in preschool, the tree is getting even more lovely with all of her handmade ornaments! i also like to let her decorate the tree–thus it has the breakable ornaments up high and then clumps of ornaments right at her level–all the angels together, all the santas together, etc! it’s great!

    Comment by Dana | December 24, 2007 | Reply

  11. I am in complete agreement. I saved all of our old ornaments when my mother went through the phase of “getting rid of it all.” I still have the Rudolph with no fur left and his nose falls out. Every year I think about when I was a child and thought he was the greatest toy to come out once a year. Oh, and the mouse whose hat and nose fell off a few years ago? He still graces the tree. 🙂
    All that being said, I have none of these on the tree this year. This year. I was lucky to get a tree up. For a week and a half it had only lights. Finally it got some bulbs. I hate not being home at Christmas. It takes all the fun out of decorating.

    Comment by Dani | December 24, 2007 | Reply

  12. My mother, a few years back, decided that she hated all of the “tacky, home-made ornaments” and threw them all away. All of my treasured childhood ornaments- gone! I am still pissed about it. I thought about going out and buying a bunch of ornaments this year so that our tree would look full, but I decided against it. Instead, we have the (very) few that my husband and I have collected together and the three that our son made this year. It’s a spare look right now (lots of colored lights make up for it somewhat), but it’s OURS. We’ll continue to make and collect as we go and I know one day we’ll have more than can even fit on a tree and they’ll all mean more to us.

    Comment by heels | December 26, 2007 | Reply

  13. Decorating the tree has been one of my favourite Christmas activities as an adult.

    As I child, I hated it. My parents weren’t into homemade ornaments and though they insisted that the decorating be a family affair they were always telling us where to put which ornaments or worse moving them after we’d put them up.

    I vowed not to repeat that bit of holiday disappointment and decided we would have only handmade and passed down decorations and that wherever the kids put them…that’s where they stay.

    And I agree, for us our tree is more than just a Christmas tree, it’s also a tribute to our family.

    Comment by Sheri | December 26, 2007 | Reply

  14. I hate to argue with such a beautiful post but…
    I like white lights.
    (Otherwise, I do agree wholeheartedly and our tree sounds like yours!)

    Comment by LoryKC | January 1, 2008 | Reply

  15. This is what I aspire to, but I haven’t managed to get a proper tree up since I moved out of home. We do have a small optic fibre tree. We whip it out a week before Christmas (when it becomes obvious that no, this will not be the year we finally buy a tree) so the toddler can look at the pretty lights. I’d love to have a real tree. Maybe this year…

    Comment by Kat | February 9, 2008 | Reply

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