Oh Christmas Tree . . .

‘Tis the season to haul boxes of heirloom ornaments from the basement or attic, or scour the store for just the right shade of blue to make our tree memorable. Magazines offer advice on how to add the perfect festive touch using this year’s color scheme.

We’re not a Martha Stewart, or Chip and Joanna Gaines, or even a Pinterest kind of tree-decorating family. They create lovely trees, but as I mentioned last week, this book is probably the seed for the tree decorating that’s been part of our Christmases.

It’s a cute little story about a beloved aunt saving Christmas by decorating her family’s oak tree home so Santa can see it on Christmas Eve. She brings balls, balloons, bells and all sorts of colorful doo-dads to create The Biggest, Most Beautiful Christmas Tree. We’re definitely graduates of the Aunt Mim School of Decorating.

When the kids were young, it was a fun evening of Christmas carols while we unpacked or made ornaments and filled the tree. Then as the younger two got older they asked to take on the project themselves. That’s how we ended up with one of my absolute favorite trees.

The candy canes are yard decorations, and what Christmas tree would be complete without a stuffed flamingo with Santa hat, a monkey puppet (Steve), and a penguin peeking out from the branches? There are of course the reindeer antlers – from the cowboy Santa’s fleet, no doubt – and a gift . . . a facial tissue box cover made from plastic canvas.

When my children’s friends and my Youth Ministry kids saw the result, they asked if I’d keep the tree as is. One of the friends said his mom would never go for it. I couldn’t imagine not.

Another year my son set a train around the tree. Not unusual, but this one wasn’t on the floor choo-chooing across the tree skirt. This one was suspended by fishing line about three-fourths the way up our nine-foot tree. Yes, the train did chug. It was an engineering marvel how my son got the track far enough away from the branches so the engine, car, and caboose didn’t derail.  

We didn’t always have a traditional angel on our top, sometimes more famous ones showed up.

And they were welcome and stayed too.

There is a sacredness to the season, but whimsy, joy, and surprises (and these trees were surprises) are also important parts. I’m sure my parents were stressed during the holidays, but nothing like I’ve seen with families the last several years as they strive to do it all and do it perfectly. I’m hopeful the trend is changing as young families are letting go of some expectations and deciding which traditions to keep. Trimming the tree seems to be one that’s staying.

Last night I finally mostly decorated this year’s tree. It’s still not Martha Stewart worthy, but it also lacks a certain imaginative flair. It’s been adorned in stages for a variety of reasons, but I’m saying it’s because I like watching the grands’ expressions each time something new has been added. Last week they saw lights and garland, this week it will be the ornaments. I can’t wait to have a scavenger hunt with them, looking for the moose, the snowmen, the strawberry. The pickle will remain hidden for now. There’s also one made from a hand print of a three-month-old. He’s four now and I know he’ll have a laughing fit when he places his big boy hand on it.

The final touch will be the tinsel, yes, those silvery strands from the 50s – hubby believes I’ve had them that long. My grandma called them icicles. But according to an Eastern European legend, they are the leavings of the Christmas spider. So, the tinsel doesn’t go on until after the grands hang the spiders. Then magic happens! The next time they see the tree it will shimmer and the lights will sparkle brighter.

Tree decorating is traced back to 16th century Germany.  My friend Linda visited Kingwood Center, a garden estate near my hometown, where they displayed trees decorated through the years – including one from the 50s with tinsel, and an aluminum tree from the 60s.

I think the color-coordinated trees are pretty, and I do have smaller, themed trees – one with vacation ornaments, one with our city’s annual keepsake ornaments, one filled with snowmen bearing family names. But even those, like the main one, are filled with stories. The grands will hear how certain baubles ended up in our box of heirloom ornaments, and eventually about the year their dad and aunt created our most beautiful Christmas tree.

However you decorate your tree, may it be filled with beauty, elicit oohs and aahs, and maybe a story or two – even if that story is about finding the very last box of ornaments that are the right shade of blue. Above all else, in this year of unbelievable stress and uncertainty, may it bring you joy.

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