Monday, December 15, 2008

My Theme For This Christmas: Focus On The Family (Whaddya Mean "That's Taken"?)

We finally got The Tree up at the Dept., and let me tell you--there is nothing that makes a bigger Scrooge out of me anymore than that job. I know, I know, how horrid does that make me sound as a Person and as a Mother and as a Woman and, by default therefore, The Holiday Bringer? But, holy crap, when it's just two grownups wrangling a seven-foot spruce and eleventy billion strings of mini-lights, the Jolly goes out of the task really fast.

(Interjection here by Rick: Whaddya mean "two grownups?" You are a lightweight and can't even stand near the door while I bring the damn thing in because you will get cold. The stand weighs more than you do. I do all the lights while you dress up the mantel. Now go ahead. )


After all the grunt work is done, the decorating begins, and that part is pretty okay. I mean, I try very hard not to be a real martinet about which ornaments hang where; it's just that some ornaments are front-of-the-tree ornaments, and some...well, they just don't make the cut. They're not First-Stringers, if you know what I mean. Now, ornaments I inherited from my dad's childhood tree? Front and center. Those have sentimental value. Plastic ornament I can't remember the origin of? Back of the tree. Handpainted likenesses of the dear departed TravisCat and EmilyCat? Hanging together in the front, right next to the sweater-head girl ornaments that Emily used to sneak off the tree while we were asleep or at work and we'd later find in her water dish. All the ornaments have a hierarchy, and almost all have a memory attached to them of some kind.

That's why I just don't get The Themed Christmas Tree. Really, what the heck is that all about? I mean, I understand them in stores, all decorated in a Circus Theme or a Teddy Bear Theme or a Color Theme, but that's to sell ornaments and lights. Why would you have that in your home at Christmas?

I look at the Family Christmas Tree as an eclectic celebration of the family. The ornaments are things that you've collected, things your kids or you have made, things that reflect your lives. Each year, Jared and Sam and I would take a day and go to breakfast and then go and look at all the decorated trees at the department stores. Each of them could pick out a special ornament of his own. To this day, each remembers which ornaments belong to whom. For a while there, they were stuck on foods: we have a kiwi, a pear, a pickle, a slice of watermelon. Then it was animals. Then sports. But the point is, those decorations personalize our tree. And when those boys leave my home to start one of their own, they can take those ornaments with them.

A theme tree doesn't have any of that. It matches a room. Or an idea. It could be anyone's tree. It could be in Pier One or Pottery Barn or Macy's just as well as in your home.

I think the absolute worst theme tree I ever saw was in a garden center in 1997. That was the year that Titanic hit the big screen. This garden center had a Titanic theme tree. I almost threw up. It had a continuous loop of the Celine Dion theme playing, and it actually had a few replicas of the ship stuck in it here and there. The ornaments were all rather Edwardian looking--lace, muslin, flowers, some baby's breath, all that crap, and some blue plastic gemstone hearts. But what a horrific idea. I leaned in to my husband and said, "Where are the life preservers and the bluish, lifeless bodies? How about a few chunks of polar ice?" Good heavens, how tasteless. And the Cleveland television station came to do a story on it! Why do I live here? Aaarrrrggghhh!

Every year there is a story about The War on Christmas. Every year I think that's a bunch of bullshit. What we really should be fighting against is The Theme Christmas Tree. It's destroying the very fiber of The American Family. So, right now--go get some pipecleaners and some Cheerios and make a wreath to hang on your Christmas tree! Make a Rudolph out of popsicle sticks and cotton balls! To paraphrase Charlie Brown: "It's not such a bad little tree. All it needs is a little love."

(Oh, and here's a Classic Dept. of Nance Post about Christmas Trees Past.)


  1. A few years ago my stepmother made the mistake of trying to have a silver and blue theme, with mostly new ornaments that fit the theme. My stepsister (who was in her thirties at the time, mind you) basically threatened to rip the tree down if the traditional ornaments weren't on come Christmas Eve. When I came home, the traditional ornaments were back on the tree.

    Every year she seems to think that a color theme will be gorgeous. I sometimes wonder if she was dropped on her head when she was a child, sometime around the beginning of December one year, and it becomes a recurring problem on the anniversary of the accident, making her incapable of being in the same room as a traditionally decorated Christmas tree.

    But then I remember that she did it right for so many years in the past...

  2. Anonymous7:55 PM

    Our first Christmas, I decided our tree would have mostly red ornaments and a rustic feel. I bought dozens of shiny apple ornaments, made red and white gingham bows, ornaments out of baked salt dough, and filled the gaps with dried baby's breath. Cost effective and cute for newleyweds. In the 26 Christmases since, I've collected HUNDREDS of ornaments. Counted-cross stitch ones sold at an annual church bazaar, rustic ornaments made from seeds, bird-themed ornaments, woodland animals, ornaments from our travels, ornaments purchased for the children, teddy bears, teacups, ones made by a favorite local artists, and many inherited from my parents.

    The tree is my favorite part of Christmas. I've abandoned most other decorating and I don't bake cookies or have big holiday parties anymore, but the tree makes me happy.

  3. Like you, every year my mom let me pick out an ornament for the year that was mine. When I moved out, our first tree already had plenty of ornaments that were full of memories.

    While our family tree is loaded with ornaments from over the years, the tree in my bedroom only has ornaments that were handmade by the kids or other family members. It's wonderful!

    The worst tree I've seen this year was a black one all decorated with silver ornaments. It looked like a funeral.

  4. Anonymous8:24 PM

    When my children were young we bought a box of blue,red,gold and green balls. Then we used our special glitter pen to write everyone's name on a ball.

    That was 50 years ago and those balls are still brought out every Christmas. They are no longer put on the tree because we are so afraid one of them may be broken.

    They are in a gorgeous golden bowl in the center of our table and as each of my four children come in for the first time on Christmas, they always look for their name on one of the balls.

    The tears come as we look at the ones that say Mom Mom or Grandpop or Aunt Sue or any that represent someone in our family who is no with us longer with us.

    It's a wonderful tradition and my children and now their children look forward to seeing those beautiful ornaments each year.

  5. We did the newlywed tree thing with red glass balls. Forty five years ago. I still have a few. When my daughters left home they took their collection of ornaments (one a year from Grandma, etc.) with them. Meanwhile I inherited my mother's ornaments and we split them three ways.
    The tree fell over a few years ago and broke a lot of them because they were front and centre. Sob.
    I buy a few or get new ornaments every year as gifts and so I do a sort of modified theme because I have more ornaments than a tree will hold; one year I mostly put red ones on and the next year mostly gold. And I am on my third tree topper angel.
    Our must have tradition is tinsel which has to be carefully placed strand by strand. I can get pretty grinchy by the time the last strand is off again but it's not as bad as it used to be because my mother made me take the tinsel off carefully and save it for next year.
    Obviously, I loved this post. I bet you get long comments from everyone.

  6. I actually got emotional reading this post. Not being home to help put up the tree, help dad with the lights, and listen to TSO and Neil Diamond (Jewish...just sayin'), and hang my ornaments, its awful.

    I am looking forward to coming home after the stress of finals and hanging my ornaments.

  7. I have a red, white and silver tree this year. I LOVE it! My brother-in-law even asked me if I decorated it all by myself. I smiled my big toothy grin and said, "Yes! Pretty impressive, 'eh!"

    I do however have special ornaments on it as well. For example, this year there are 3 (one from each grandma and one from mommy) Baby's First Christmas ornaments and they all fit in just fine. There are plenty of other special things too. Promise.

    I've always loved a theamed (color) tree. I can remember arguing with my mom and sister when I was just little girl about NOT putting on those UGLY HOMEMADE thingies!!!! EWE!!!! But I will admit that I'm all for and entire tree of homemade ornaments. Probably because that in itself is a theme :)

    Off to the doctor. Looks like the little Micah Man has chicken pox. So sad...

  8. OH. MY. GOODNESS. Love the bunny!!!

  9. Anonymous2:41 PM

    I think I would like a themed tree about as much as I like a "themed house" at Christmas, where the whole place looks like Christmas exploded all over it (you know what I mean: the reindeer toilet paper holder, Santa Claus coasters, etc., etc., topped off by the ubiquitous Christmas Sweater, something that should be permanently banned from the planet.)

    Years ago in Madrid when I was particularly poverty-stricken, I bought a tiny little C.B. tree and decorated it with popcorn strings and paper chains. One of my all-time favorite trees. (Along with your Tree of Christmas Past, lol.)

  10. Anonymous3:01 PM


    Ortizzle reminded me of something I haven't thought about in a long time.

    I got a catalog once at Christmas and,Honest to God, they were advertising Christmas Wallpaper! Can you imagine? And themed bedspreads and curtains to go with the wall decor.

    Oh! the decadence of it all.

    I had a Hell of a time getting that Wallpaper down in January.......

  11. Nancy--Do some people actually have a CHRISTMAS ROOM? good heavens.

    Ortizzle--when the boys were little, we had a "Christmas House", I'm sure. But I think everyone does when kids are involved. Now, we're much more subtle.

    Nina--Isn't that a face!? I just want to grab those jowls and shake.

    Nina (again)--I think we all go through the stage where we don't appreciate the homemade ornaments in our teen years or so. then we get sentimental. wait till Micah starts making you ornaments. that theme tree will look WAAAAY different, I bet! (get him better quick! I need to see him over break!)

    JPD--Sam is waiting to hang his when you get home, too. We missed you very much! We'll put the music on, too. XXXXXOOOOO

    Mary G--thanks! and we've had trees go over, too, when I was living at home. I once got HOLLERED AT because I didn't catch it! yeah, like I'm gonna try and catch an 8 foot blue spruce. NOT!

    Nancy--that's what I'm talking about! you should shed a few tears when you decorate the Christmas tree! you should be remembering people and past events who MEAN SOMETHING TO YOU! a Christmas tree is a FAMILY TREE. your tradition sounds wonderful. thank you for sharing it here.

    J.--some people do have more than one tree, so it's okay to have the theme tree as a "show" tree. i can sanction that. i love the fact that yours is in your bedroom. very intimate and personal.

    v-grrrl--i always have to have an unobstructed view of the tree. i can look at it for a long time and just think. and even though it's a pain, i like a BIG tree. i find it comforting. and, yes, like you--happy.

    mikey--i get it. there is something in some people who just have this urge to change it up at Christmas for some reason. well, Christmas is one of those things that you just shouldn't screw with. the tradition of it is what makes it so comforting and welcome. there is so much chaos and disruption in the world the rest of the year; why not be content for this one time?

  12. I'm with you on the tree, Nance! Themed trees are meant for commercial establishments where they don't have their own traditions or personal ornaments. Admittedly, most businesses choose not to put up a tree these days, but there are still some out there and they tend to go with a theme.

    We put ours up on Sunday. As always, it's 9 1/2 feet tall and a cedar from the field, one with blue berries. It looks and smells wonderful. We find it and cut it. (Our hunting spots have changed over the years due to availability, development, etc.) We decorate our tree with a combination of glass balls (I like those for reflecting the lights ... some belonged to my family when I was very young and are fading a bit), handmade ornaments from family and friends, and others I've collected over the years. It's quite a collection. Many were made by my son when he was younger--from preschool on up and always incorporating a picture of him. I think those are my faves. (Other faves are a sterling silver jingle bell, many Santas of all descriptions, lots of crocheted snowflakes, and a crocheted angel on top.) Each year we've given our son at least one ornament and he's received many fo them from family members as gifts, too. In fact, he has enough already to have his own skinny 5-foot tree downstairs and will have plenty of ornaments to decorate his own live tree one day.

    Once while returning home from a trip north in early December, it started snowing and on a whim we stopped at a Christmas tree firm and bought some type of "prissy" fir. It looked nice on the top of my car, but the biggest they had to offer was 8 feet, which came 18 inches below our ceiling. My son was very upset with us for not getting our usual cedar. He hated that tree.

    I always had a tree in my classroom when I was a teacher. The kids would make ornaments and the ubiquitous paper chain. I'd pass the tree on (all decorated) to a student if one wanted it, take it home myself, or give it to my then boyfriend (now husband) for his apt.

    I do love our tree and turn the lights on first thing in the morning and then off for work, but on again as soon as we get back home until bedtime. Looking at it makes me feel wonderful!

  13. I love traditional trees. Themed trees look nice, but they're so sterile. My tree in my apartment is almost a theme tree--I bought an ornament set from Target last year of coordinating colors. I'm just starting to accumulate the ornaments with personal meaning. I keep threatening to take "my" ornaments from home to add to my own tree.

  14. ACK! This just made me realize that my mom's ornaments are all gone. I wonder if she threw them away, or if my brother did when he went through her house? The childhood ornaments, gone. That makes me sad. Sigh.

    I love a Christmas tree, but I sure do hate putting them up, unless they're small and fake. I like the real tree as much as the next person, but our little fake one is EASY.

    I wrote about the War On Christmas when I first started blogging. I got one comment. One. :)

    Merry Christmas!

  15. j.@jj--the easy's so tempting, I know! If your mom's ornaments are important to you, I hope you find them. Good luck. And Merry Christmas to you, too!

    jenomena--everyone's--almost--first trees are that way, i think, unless you've gotten ornaments as gifts since you were young, like my boys. you'll soon start accumulating them on your own.

    shirley--your cedar w/berries sounds gorgeous. and a tree that tall and big, how wonderful! i used to have a tree every year in my classroom until too many kids started to criticize it for really no good reasons. finally, i got sick of it. i was trying to do something homey and pleasant, and some of them just couldn't help themselves, you know? it's just not worth it anymore.

    at least, lately, it hasn't been.

  16. Anonymous5:01 PM

    Amen to the Anti-theme Christmas trees. What a stupid idea to have a tree wherein all the ornaments are plaid or striped. It's boring, people! Boring and unimaginative! Our tree is salute to the cast-off ornament, the homemade, the souvenir-ornament-from-faraway-places, the very old, the very cheap, and the stuff I bought at a garage sale. I like everything on it and nothing gets left out. It's a walk down memory lane when you look at our tree and I wouldn't have it any other way.

  17. Anonymous12:43 AM

    I do the two tree thing...I have my "pretty tree" that is themed with red/gree/gold/ and then I have my family tree, in my family room. Decorating was rough with Kara Brooke this year though because she keeps taking the ornaments off and saying. "oh, pitty pitty mommy", how can you get mad, right? So my trees are both decorated 2/3. the bottom third is empty, no little hands to get at them. Maybe next year will be better?

  18. Halley--Hi! welcome back!! well, sometimes we have to make "adaptations" to our trees to allow for pet/kid redecoration. my kids used to rehang stuff every once in a while, like their Winnie-the-Pooh ornaments. my friend sue has two dogs whose tails destroyed the bottom third of her tree. oh well! that's your LIFE! ;-)

    apathy lounge--you'd love our nativity scene. very eclectic. i blogged about it before, but in addition to part of the Cleveland Cavaliers starting lineup, we also have a couple of African ceremonial women, a jazz saxophonist, a get the idea. Sigh. can you tell the boys are 'in charge' of it?


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