twenty percent decorating

We always put our Christmas tree up the Friday after thanksgiving. Always. No exceptions. Well, except when we go out of town. Then, we live with the unsettling feeling that the universe as we know it is coming to an end until the following weekend, when everything can be put to rights. As my kids would say–it’s tradition! Tevye has nothing on my kids when it comes to holidays. But over 24 years of four-legged and 19 years of two-legged children, our Yuletide offering bush has had some interesting adventures. I should have expected this the first year I went off to college and our two-foot Kmart special sported both cheap glass balls and dreidels. Ours was a multicultural dorm room.

There was the Sunday my husband and I came home from church and noticed something not quite right as we peered through our living room window. Our apartment being a semi-basement unit two feet away from a busy sidewalk, anyone could peer through our windows. The tree had fallen and couldn’t get up. Specifically, our five-month-old kitten had climbed the tree and found the small newlywed-affordable KMart stand insufficient for balancing feline acrobats. Down came the tree. Down came the cat. Down came favorite fragile ornaments. Thus, we discovered the trick of tying our Christmas tree to a ceiling hook with fishing line. Done it ever since.

Then came the year two of the kids had made adorable ornaments at school out of dog biscuits, pipe cleaners, copious glitter, and their kindergarten photos. While digging out said ornaments, no one suggested that putting them within reach of the dog might be a bad idea. The next morning, those little faces in the photos looked like they had been mauled by a rabid stapler. And the dangling, naked pipe cleaners–just not festive.

Or the several years we realized, short of penning the babies for the duration of December, we needed some other measure to protect our tree from having everything on the bottom foot yanked down and, possibly, eaten again, this time by small ones who should probably not eat such things. Whatev er they say, mothers are the real mothers of invention. We put the tree in the playpen instead of the kids. Baubles all safe, out of harm’s way. (Our oldest, upon hearing that phrase when she was two, indignantly protested–“My name is not harm!”)

How about all the years 80 percent of the ornaments hung on 20 percent of the tree? The bottom 20 percent–the only limbs within reach of a five-year-old. Not Martha Stuart quality? Probably not. But I discovered something about perfect decor that first year the girls helped decorate for Christmas. I could do it my way–and have a perfect tree. Or I could let them help, eat cookies with them, giggle and tickle, and take lots of pictures of our 20 percent tree. A perfect house or a perfect memory? Since I’ll never achieve the former anyway, it’s kind of a no brainer.

In ensuing years, they put out the other decorations, too. In some very interesting places. So I might not have put the nativity set in the bathroom. Perhaps, in hindsight, that’s where one could spend the most time contemplating it. The important thing wasn’t how they did it but that they did it, and felt connected to the Christmas traditions and meaning. Now, much older, sometimes they come up with better decorating ideas than I do, and they’re willing to take risks and think outside the Christmas ornament box. I like to think it’s a direct result of our 20-percent Christmas tree days.

And by the way, keep the fishing line out. There’s a new kitten in the house.

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