Years ago, my daughter (age 14 at the time) asked me if we had to put all of the handmade ornaments on the tree that her and her younger brother (then age 11) had made throughout the years. This lead to my thinking about the many phases of Christmas tree decorating that one goes through in their lifetime so this is loosely based on my experiences and those who have gone before me.
When you’re really young, toddler and through elementary school, the more colours, glitter and sparkle on the tree the merrier, not to mention the ‘handcrafted’ things. Lovingly draped around the tree are the paper links, popcorn garland, the painted pinecones, the balsam wood stars with glue globs and sequins, and the cotton batten Santa beards. All hung at the bottom of the tree on branches within reach.
Through the teen years those handmade ornaments gradually get culled out or broken, not to survive another festive season. And that’s ok because as a teenager you want to be grown up and cool, all at the same time, and those paper Santas with the cotton batten beards just aren’t ‘your vibe’.
When you’ve moved out of the house into your own place you realize that you are responsible for decorating but you have little money so you ask Mom for any baubles that she can spare (but no, you don’t want the handmade elementary school ornaments) and you hit the discount stores for cheap things that leave more glitter on your hands and the floor than on the tree but it’s all yours and you’re happy.
You may get married and for a few years you might want to impress the in-laws so you try to present a pulled together tree on little income, again, leaving glitter in your wake. You say you share the decorating with your spouse but really he’s only allowed to put the star on. Even then it’s under your watchful eye and subject to adjustment once he’s left the room.
Then you have children. Now you’re back to paper links and cotton batten hats but they’re so cute and your children are so proud of their creations that they take up the prime real estate at the front of the tree. You give over the decorating of the tree after you’ve strung the lights. Little hands hang everything on one or two branches so you wait until they go to bed and rearrange to evenly adorn the tree.
At some point you want your tree back. You’re a little older and can afford nicer baubles and you want a tree worthy of a magazine spread. You’ve been on Pinterest or have flipped through holiday magazines in the grocery lines and you want a colour coordinated thing of beauty that will stop people in their tracks.
You tell the kids they can have their own tree in the family room, maybe a potted live one that you can plant outside after the holidays to somewhat alleviate your guilty conscience. “Wouldn’t that be nice?” you gush, talking them into the value of their tree so that they don’t look at you sideways.
Now your tree in the living room is yours and yours alone. On go the white lights and expensive ribbon, the real glass baubles that sparkle in the light along with the glass icicles. Maybe red and gold or blue and silver but only two colours max. Beautiful.
Eventually after a few years, the kids (now a little older and getting wiser) ask why you don’t want their ornaments on your tree. You sigh, silently bidding farewell to that magazine spread tree, and you hand over the decorating once again to the kids, combining the mismatched assortment of baubles accumulated over the years and letting them decide that perhaps the cardboard Santa hat with the cotton batten falling off should stay in the box this year.
The kids get older and move out and you send with them off with a box of the least treasured ornaments that secretly you’re glad to get rid of and never really liked in the first place. Some of the dollar store stuff you bought when you first moved out and now the kids think they’re antiques handed down through generations. You realize that this is probably what your mom did when you moved out but you can’t quite throw out the ornaments that you thought were family heirlooms just incase they really are. You get your tree back but perhaps you miss having the kids at home and you hang a few of their special baubles on the tree as you reminisce and wipe away a tear.
After a year or two you’re over it and you have your magazine tree back.
Some more time passes and the kids are in relationships and start going elsewhere every other year or move far away so hauling a big tree in and decorating seems to be such work for just the two of you so you get a smaller tree and less ornaments come out of storage. Then you become grandparents and spend some holidays at other houses so you don’t bother with a tree every year. Storage boxes stay tucked away.
At some point your knees start to hurt or you’ve put your back out one too many times and suddenly hauling out totes of holiday glitter doesn’t seem like an enjoyable thing to do and the thought of having to pack it all away again just makes you exhausted so you hang a few things on a houseplant and call it done. You’ll enjoy someone else’s decorations. And that’s ok with you.
I’m in between phases right now, one is away at university and the other is at home but we still decorate as a family. I do the lights, Todd does the star, the kids and I hang the decorations. Some stay in the box (those pink glass baubles that were ‘handed down’ to me and some of the school projects) but most of it finds a home on a branch for the Christmas season.
We will be putting up our tree soon and I do know it will be beautiful no matter what.