Tacky Tree

by Amber Jensen

Once upon a time I thought I might be one of those people who matched their gift wrapping to their Christmas tree trimmings. I don’t know why I thought I was that person but my ideas of coordinating bows and lights, garland and beads, soon disintegrated.

It was that first clothespin reindeer ornament for me. The patchy brown paint slopped on the wood and a little red poof ball for a nose—I’m sure you know the one. It’s got pipe cleaner antlers and the preschool teacher helped my child write their name on the back. I’m pretty sure it was that little gift that ruined me for all the fancy trees I might have had.

Then one year we all got the flu. Me, three kids and influenza got real cozy. My mom came to stay with us and saw my struggle to continue to make Christmas Magic happen. She disappeared one day and came back with a box full of random Christmas decorations from a thrift store. Most of the box was plastic ornaments and bead garlands. I had never draped beads on my tree before. Now, those same plastic balls and beads are the first to trim our tree each year.

reindeer ornament

Once upon a time I imagined ornate heirloom glass baubles as my prized Christmas decor. Now, there’s a couple shoe boxes lovingly tucked into totes each year. Special ornaments get wrapped in tissue or brown paper to keep them from being ruined. Carved sand dollars from my sister, with each of my children’s names on them. Dried oranges from when my children were in kindergarten and made them with their teacher. The lights from the tree sparkle through the fruit like stained glass. There are paper stars with scraggly handwritten blessings, popsicle sticks with hot glue and twig and yarn creations. And that clothespin reindeer. All my very most prized Christmas dangles. Not a glass ball among them.

I remember the year I opened the Christmas totes and saw that moisture had ruined my salt dough ornaments. All those precious hand prints and thumb prints and kid creations, gone. A whole year of Christmas memories crumbled to bits. I couldn’t imagine being as sad about broken glass balls as I was about salt dough.

Once upon a time I imagined the winter holidays as a fast pace time of glitz and glitter. A time to rush about and wrap up the year with parties and outfits and so much ceremony. Now, we make gingerbread houses from kits I get on sale, we deliver baked goods to neighbors, we wear our soft pants and look forward to the slow dark days of winter.

I sit by our tacky Christmas tree and remember all the previous trees. The one that was covered in paper airplanes from all the paper plane races. The one that had nothing on the bottom third when our youngest experienced his first Christmas. The Charlie Brown Ponderosa on our first born’s second Christmas, and how he would chatter and chatter up at it, and the way the lights and fancy ornaments danced in his eyes. Oh my goodness, a can’t forget, the tree that was delivered to our family by friends, 11 days before Christmas, because we all had the flu again and couldn’t go out and get one. All those tacky trees.

Once upon a time I couldn’t have imagined the joy of watching children dress a scraggly tree, crooked and lopsided. And now, I’m there.

I turn the lights off, light a cheap candle, sit and sip a hot drink and enjoy the sparkle of the best tree ever. And every year, the tree is better. Our tacky, silly, mismatched tree.


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