For many years, I methodically put out the ornaments on the tree, one box at a time. Carefully packing the empty boxes away as I went along. I would strategically spread the ornaments out so the tree was neat and even; always making sure to keep the lights off so I could properly space everything.
When my kids were old enough to help, I handed them the ornaments one at a time. Then I’d rearrange.
When they got old enough to want to put the hook on themselves and select their own ornaments, I would move behind them as they went along and straighten up to make sure the tree looked it’s very best. When they were done, I would turn off the lights and rearrange anything that was too clumpy.
Which was most of the tree.
(I know. I’ve got problems)
Two years ago, everyone was old enough to be powered with enough excitement to tear through the ornament bin like hungry raccoons tear through a trash can; discarding boxes, tissue paper, and unwanted ornaments in their wake.
In other words, it was a chaotic mess for me.
I let them do their thing while cleaning up after them. When they went to bed, I snuck into the room like the tree-trimming Grinch I was and rearranged everything on the tree. Including the candy canes.
(I’m available for parties if you’re interested)
This year, I waited until the hurricane moved to another room and then upstairs before I cleaned up.
That’s all I did.
The only ornaments I touched were ones that were almost falling off a limb or were too heavy for the light strand. Otherwise, I left everything exactly how they were placed in all their imperfect glory.
I could tell you that I did it because they won’t want to help me decorate forever, but that’s not really true. I’m not in that season of my life yet, it feels too far away — although it’s really not.
I could tell you that I did it as a lesson in appreciation for their traditional childhood moments.
That’s not really the reason, either.
I left it all the way it was simply because I didn’t feel like moving them.
The truth is, after four kids, I guess you could say that I finally see the battle over tree decor symmetry was always a stupid one. Did it really matter how the ornaments were placed? I wasn’t in a tree decorating contest. It’s not like my circle of friends only know and like me for the elegance of my tree trimming.
Decorating the tree is something my kids look forward to for weeks before December is even here. They started to pull the ornaments out before I even finished the dishes and I just let them go. They were excited, they shouted, they laughed at ornaments they made as toddlers. They asked for stories about the older ornaments:
“Who made this one?”
“Where did this one come from?”
Who am I to jump in and micromanage a good time?
So, I didn’t.
Instead, I sat at the counter and took the job of hook detangler so they had a sorted pile ready to load on an ornament.
They hung every ornament we own. Even the ugly ones I never unwrap.
They never got bored.
They never asked for help.
They came back for hook after hook pretending to be elves decorating the main tree at the North Pole.
And then they were done and moved on with the next thing.
Every evening, I sit with the lights out and spend some of my quiet time looking at the tree and its imbalanced decor. The cat joins me because I often have a fleece blanket and as all cat owners know, despite being covered with soft fur, a soft blanket is kitty Kryptonite. Occasionally, I’ll have a glass of eggnog. One year I drank up to three gallons of eggnog by myself while admiring the tree.
(I’m not proud, but I kind of am)
Forty ornaments on the same five branches together, a bare space before another cluster of ornaments below it. A light strand dropping from the weight of a plaster hand-mold ornament painted like a Santa from years ago.
After all those years of fussing over the perfection of my tree, I realize that it doesn’t matter how the tree looks. I enjoy it just as much as I did in previous years. Maybe, even more, this year, since I wasn’t the one who put in the time and effort. Besides, when it’s dark, you don’t notice any of these things unless you’re looking for them. You mostly just see them sparkle and glisten under the glow of the lights.
Isn’t that really how life is?
Despite the daily disorganization, chaos, and unbalanced elements that feel so important, when you look back at the bigger picture, you’re often left with remnants of the past that outshine the messiness. If given enough time, the important parts of life always seem to find a way to the surface and glow brighter than the inadequate ones.
It doesn’t really matter how the tree is decorated, it’s still festive and lovely.
Who knew that my kids decorating the Christmas tree would have such a deeply profound realization. Maybe it’s just because I’m getting older and so are they. Maybe it’s because this year has been a hard and fast lesson in appreciating the little things that matter. Or, maybe I’m just starting to realize that life is much simpler than I gave it credit for.
I’ll have to think about it over another gallon of eggnog.