Drinking and decorating: The anti-Martha-Stewart-Pottery-Barn Christmas tree

Two years ago, I turned over the job of decorating my Christmas tree to my kids, then ages 7 and 9. We had just moved into our “new” 54-year-old house that needed a lot of TLC and was sucking the life out of us. After months of looking for new places for our furniture, artwork, books, games, dishes, and walking into walls in unfamiliar rooms in the middle of the night and grasping for unfamiliar light switches, the thought of having to find a good place for the Christmas tree was the last straw. I sat on the floor of the house that still felt like someone else’s and cried.

This was not Christmas as I’d known it growing up. Holidays were BIG at my house and consisted of cleaning, cooking, shopping, baking, more cleaning, coordinating outfits, practicing Christmas songs on the organ (I know, right???), wrapping, more cleaning, making cookies, making pierogis, and more cleaning. My mother spent days arranging decorations in the house; she was Martha Stewart before anyone had heard of Martha Stewart.

I was never permitted to touch the “good” tree upstairs, but I was allowed to decorate the “other” tree in the basement. I call it the consolation tree. (Usually my mother would come down later and rearrange all the ornaments again anyway.) Secretly I fear I’ll never be good enough to put together the good tree.

See, that’s why the holidays are tricky. There’s all this pressure to be merry and buy stuff but it’s also fraught with memories, good and bad. Sometime after Halloween, I remember all the old family holiday parties and every year, there are a few less faces around the table. Some years are harder than others. That year in our new old house was a hard one.

So I let my kids decorate the good–the only–tree all by themselves that year, and it was so much fun we decided to make it a new Miles family tradition. We play holiday music. I make hot chocolate.  The kids dance around all hopped up on sugar cookies. They make me wear the Santa hat with the reindeer antlers. But they take their job very seriously. Each ornament is placed with great care and consideration, although I have the most random, crazy mix of ornaments you could possibly imagine. It’s enough to make Martha’s toes curl.

The reactions to their decorating efforts are usually…not good. People walk in, look at the tree and say things like, “Oh my!” or “Were you drinking and decorating again?” It makes me wonder sometimes how my mom felt when she stood back, alone, to survey her tree and the trimmings and the perfection. I would ask, but her last Christmas was 16 years ago. If she could see my tree now, she would immediately shoo me out of the room so she could fix it. I would let her do it, but only if she wore the Santa hat with the reindeer antlers, which she’d hate because it would mess up her hair.

So yeah, my tree looks disheveled and a little tipsy, kind of like me after the neighborhood holiday party–OK, all of the neighborhood parties–and the complete opposite of any tree ever featured in Pottery Barn.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

8 thoughts on “Drinking and decorating: The anti-Martha-Stewart-Pottery-Barn Christmas tree

  1. I have been doing this for over 38 years. My grandchildren now are the ones catching up on all those ornaments that they have not seen since last year!! I sit and hand out ornaments (the God’s eyes made in kindergarten by their daddy) the silly ones; the pretty ones; the ones from friends who have left us. It depends on the age of everyone as to where the bulk of the ornaments fall – and in all these years have never moved one!! I love the feeling that makes our family know that Christmas is about love, joy, sharing, and that traditions happen because we just keep doing it. The warmth fills the home and sets the tone for the rest of the holiday

    1. My granddaughter started helping me when she was three, so you can see
      how high she could reach. All her decorations were in a three foot round
      place and I never changed them. She is now almost and i hardly ever see her, the good part is she has a little sister who is almost three and will be helping grandma decorate the tree. Some of the best thoughts of my life are around that tree.

  2. im a new reader. what a fun blog! we have a 7, 4, & 2 yr old… although I dream of perfection – I have never been able to do anything but let the children decorate. And this year our 2 yr old has already broken several sentimental ornaments – so ALL of the ornaments are on the top 1/3 of the tree out of reach!! hahaa. Sigh. Can’t sweat the small stuff. The kids wont remember how the tree looked, and it wont matter, but they will remember how much love they felt. How much fun they had. Down with Pottery Barn! and Happy Holidays 🙂

  3. It’s so funny … this sounds like my house all year round. I always feel the need to “apologize.” My house is tidy (well tidy for having 2 kids a construction worker/outdoorsmen husband and a big yellow lab….), and it’s a bit ecclectic. My mom is always telling me I should ‘de-clutter’ (My parent’s house was always WHITE … white carpeting, white tile, white furniture, friggin’ white crocheted ornaments on the Christmas Tree. But there is very little that is in our house that does not have meaning or a memory. I beat myself up alot for not being able to live up to her standards…. I don’t think she does, but I do. But, I work 2 jobs, have 2 kids, and have been in a battle with my husband’s brain tumor for over a decade…. so, I think she cuts me some slack while silently judging… LOL. I always tell people, my house might not make sense to them, and may not be pristine, but it is LIVED in. Alot like your Christmas tree, everything your kids do to decorate it done with love and innocence and joy – everything Christmas is supposed to be. I also love for the whole family to be involved in the tree decorating. (yeah, try that with a 15yr old boy – but, he knows it’s important to me, so he plays along.) It’s a happy time, and we end up talking every year about which ornament came from where (almost all of ours are handmade by someone in the family or were special gifts) …But, much like your Mom, I also “fix it” after they’re asleep 🙂

    1. all that white would be a disaster at my house!! thank god we have hardwood floors, chrissy. 🙂 and a little fixing after hours never hurts. sounds like your family has great holidays!

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