Oh, Christmas ladder...

I grew up in a house without a Christmas tree, in fact, in most of the years that I remember my mother did very little decorating at all. I didn't understand it at the time, and I longed for a Christmas tree with all of the passion of a child to whom the Christmas trees of friends and classmates seemed embodied with the magical abilities to bring that mysterious "Christmas Spirit" into a home.

We had a tree one year, when I was about five or six, and we may have had them before that, but never afterwards and I didn't really understand why. One year we had a refrigerator box that my mom fashioned into a pyramid shape and covered with green wrapping paper; we stuck paper ornaments on it with all of the names of Christ written on them. I suppose it was a meaningful experience since I still remember it, but at the time all I can remember thinking is "Well THIS is all well and good, but I want decorations!"

Yes, I wanted sparkling lights, candles, tinsel. I wanted something to warm both house and heart. One year I discovered a box of old Christmas decorations in the closet and those paltry, crumbling items held an aura of mystery to me. From them on I took it upon myself to be the decorator for the season. Tinsel on the house plants, old candles arranged with fake greenery and a few flaking decorations, pictures stenciled on the windows with fake snow. I spent years trying to create the feeling of something that I knew was out there, something that I never managed to quite grasp.

Fast forward to my first year out of college and an attic apartment shared with my best friend. She was determined to have a tree, and I happily joined in, going to pick out the tree, hauling it up two flights of stairs and around several tight corners. We decorated with ornaments she got from home, as well as a few purchased on our meager budgets. I still have them in a box; each of my trees since then has been the cumulative story of my adult life.

I had a tree most years after that, skipping a few years with crazy roommates, picking back up when I married and then stopping again when Mike and I lived in apartments with no space for a tree. But still I loved the idea of putting up a tree.

That all changed a few years ago, at a time when we were finally settled into our own home, a time when I should have gladly decked the halls for all they were worth. And I found that I just couldn't make the effort, it exhausted me to even think about it. Going to pick the tree wasn't the happy family outing I had dreamed of, it involved freezing fingers and two small children fussing about how COLD they were. And then there were the needles everywhere, and the hours spent decorating and the watering and the needles and the allergies to the chemicals used on the trees and the needles and the hours spent packing everything back up and it just didn't make it FEEL like Christmas for more than about the first hour.

I wonder now if my mother suffered from seasonal depression too, if the effort of trying to maintain peace on earth and joy to the world all through the holidays was as exhausting to her as it has become to me. I wonder if, like me, she just wanted something simpler but didn't know how to achieve that balance and so she just didn't even try.

This year I decided to put my foot down. I just couldn't do it anymore. Fortunately, I was helped along in my decision by a certain eight year old who suddenly decided that we are better off keeping the trees where they are so that they can provide us with oxygen. The minute he declared we shouldn't have a tree I said "OK! We won't!"

The lessons learned in my childhood weren't lost though. I decided that I would decorate within MY abilities. And so we have the poinsettia corner (using the tree skirt that I debated on for almost two years before purchasing):

The garlanded stocking railing (complete with decorations that recall the chipped and flaking decorations of my childhood):

The Advent wreath (in which I make use of all the round glass ornaments):

The Nativity set, watching for something (for those who have known me awhile, yes, this is the nativity set of "Help, help, Baby Jesus is lost in the beans! Quick, get the sheep!" fame):

And finally, the Christmas ladder:

I can't begin to tell you how much fun I had decorating this year. Each piece was small and quickly finished. I missed putting up ALL of my treasured old ornaments just for the chance to remember their stories, but I am content with what I've done.

When I pulled out the box of decorations Indy dove in with great delight and as I started fussing at him to not make a mess and leave the decorations alone I remembered the mystery that I found years ago in a box of old decorations and I decided to let him play. Maybe one day when he's interested I'll tell him the stories held in some of the decorations.

Most importantly, now that I have the pressure to create removed from my back I have more to give. More time to spend on Advent devotions. More time to spend soaking in the peace. More time to sit with my children, listening to them express their wonder with the season. More time for Christ. And really, that is what it's all about.


  1. I remember that green wrapped box too. No idea what year it was, but some things, you just can't forget.

  2. I think your house looks very festive and warm! I admit I cannot imagine not having a tree, but I have embraced the idea that a fake tree is better than chopping down a cool baby tree... and easier to maintain as well....

    however, i would have that christmas ladder in a flash :)


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