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.