Christmas meant a wonderland of decorations growing up. My mother sewed creative advent calendars, collected nativities, and gave each child a new ornament each year. By the time I graduated from college, I had enough ornaments to decorate my own small tree. I eagerly anticipated decorating each year, watching our every day house transform into a festive oasis.
My dad artfully strung brightly colored lights in our numerous fruit trees. My mom created a miniature Christmas town in our picture window. We put Johnny Mathis Christmas albums in the tape deck and decorated a live Christmas tree with a festive mish-mash of ornaments, bubble lights, and tinsel. The house would often be filled with the smells of fir tree and baked goods intermingling and cleverly disguised packages would appear to tempt us early in December. Even our toy room received a makeover, with a faux cardboard fire place and a miniature tree to hang homemade ornaments.
Just thinking of those days makes me feel warm, loved, and tickled with anticipation. Christmas meant magic and I grew up believing I would recreate that magic exactly for my own children. But – surprise! – Tim and I are not my parents and, for us, making all of that “magic” happen is anything but magical.
Trying to recreate that childhood Christmas has taught me quite a bit about myself. I sincerely think my parents found real joy in stringing all of those lights, bringing out boxes of decorations from the attic, and making our home decidedly festive. Tim and I, on the other hand, get overwhelmed taking down our everyday decorations, trudging up the stairs with loads of Christmas decorations, and then packing the first ones away. This is all before we even find a tree we can afford, actually get it to stand without tipping over, and string lights while the kids wait impatiently to decorate. All of this, realizing in a month you’ll have to take it all down. After a few hours, this feels anything but jolly.
I still love Christmas decorations, but in moderation. If secret elves came in to do the set up and clean up, I’d cover every inch of this place Buddy the Elf style. But they don’t come, plus space is at a premium in our current home, so I’ve learned to compromise. This felt like a kind of failure, a sad giving up at first. Would Christmas be magical for my children if I didn’t put up five manger scenes and light every room in the house? Should we really get a live tree on December 1st, when we’ll forget to water it in just a few days? Do sugar cookies and cinnamon rolls have to be made from scratch to count?
I’m still not entirely sure how to sprinkle just the right amount of holiday cheer to please us all. The kids are all for more. Tim is all about less. I want to relax and enjoy my holidays, with decorating and baking as part of the fun, rather than chores. So we tweak each year and compromise. Last year, I finally had to give up my beloved bubble lights on the tree when entire strings of lights went out (after I checked them all) and I started bawling. I ended up stringing mini colored lights and realized I loved the tree just as much. This year, I’ll find a way to create a display with the bubble lights because I realized they are non-negotiable for me. Perhaps they’ll light up a wreath or hang from a mantle; a little Christmas present nodding to Christmas past.
My Christmas morning cinnamon and orange rolls usually come from a tin. The years my mom visits, I tell the kids to wait for her to make sugar cookies because she doesn’t mind the mess. If I’m free from the expectations of those “chores,” however, I’m delighted to take a few hours to make homemade pies and dip pretzels. We put a few lights up on our front bushes, along the stair rail, and strung across the toy room ceiling, then search for lights on evening drives. The kids enjoy pre-made chocolate advent calendars each year and I hang up a few others if I remember. I have one Snow Babies manger scene. Our broken star topper will be replaced with a new tradition, as we top our tree with a crown from Buckingham Palace.
Perhaps one day the kids will be old enough to help more and we’ll bring up decorations we keep tucked away. For now, we spread a bit of festive cheer from room to room, then snuggle up in the glow of the lights, taking in the delightful smell of pine, and my kids see magic all around.