Oh Tannenbaum.

Dear friends,

I bought a Christmas tree on Sunday. For most people this would not be remarkable; for me, however, it represents my first tree purchase in more than a decade.

I’m notoriously cheap when it comes to some things. Food is not one of them. Certain other necessary items such as fashionable clothing and shoes and purses are also not among the things I scrimp on. Nor are Christmas gifts.

But holiday decorations — I’m always looking for 80% off or better. Which explains why I only buy lights and wrapping paper and such on the day after Christmas and why our family used the same faux Christmas tree for as long as everybody can remember.

When we left Oklahoma 18 months ago, our not-so-gently-used Christmas tree had long passed its expiration date so we tossed it rather than pack it. The problem was, once we settled into our new home I couldn’t find a tree I considered suitable for our thoroughly modern home.

Maybe I was homesick. Maybe I was too sentimental to unpack all my careworn ornaments and hang them on a new tree in a place that didn’t yet feel like home. Or, maybe, as I claimed, a traditional tree would look silly in my contemporary living area. Whatever the reason, I decided to make my own “modern” tree. (It was a cinch. Mr. Mom cut a tree branch and I spray painted it, strung a bit of tinsel and lights, and hung a few tree-themed ornaments.)

At the time, I thought it was Charlie-Brown cool and funky, my own little art installation. Holiday visitors to our home said they liked it, but I secretly wondered if they were just being polite.

See what you think:

Anyway, this year I just couldn’t get revved up to create another funky tree. Even though Kate is off to college and there’s no way I could ever talk Parker or Mr. Mom into helping me decorate a traditional tree, I was itching to pull out all my beloved ornaments collected since my childhood and throughout my kids’ school years.

For me, Christmas is about cherished memories and my memories, for better or worse, are inexplicably tied to my ornaments. There’s the ones I made in grade school and gave to my mother. There’s the ones I sold to raise money for my high school cheerleading squad. There’s the ones given to me in college by my sorority sisters. There’s the ones hand-painted and given to me by a family friend. There’s several given to me by coworkers over the years. There’s the ones collected for my children, who were allowed to select their favorite Disney characters and Barbie dolls.  There’s a slew of “Baby’s First Christmas” and 2nd, and 3rd, and so on, for both Kate and Parker. And then there’s the ones Kate and Parker made in grade school out of dough or Popsicle sticks and beads. There’s far too many to fit on a single tree, but that’s part of the fun, rotating the display each year.

So I broke down and bought a new tree. I decided to give it a run in the den, where the furniture and colors are far more traditional and where a tree overloaded with homespun ornaments won’t look so out of place. I think I’ll spend Saturday decorating the new tree and playing Christmas carols and walking down memory lane and probably even getting weepy, but what’s the Christmas season without a few tears, nostalgic or otherwise?

With gratitude {for a lifetime of Christmas memories packed away in tissue paper},

Joan, who invites you to tell me about your Christmas tree and favorite ornaments because she’s convinced she can’t be the only woman who knows and treasures the origin of every single ornament in her stash


  1. I am a sucker for discounted decorations – my favorites being partial sets of vintage ornaments picked up at a local thrift store. This year we are focusing on featuring the multicultural ornaments in our large (and ever growing) collection, including a family favorite, 20 or so woven friendship bracelets purchased from little girls in a village in a remote region of NW Guatemala long ago. We hang the bracelets like colorful “icicles” on the tree some years and it puts a very folkloric spin on the entire enterprise. Not at all modern, not classically traditional, but still loads of fun.

  2. When I took my tree down last year I packed all of Hannah’s ornaments and gave them to her for her own home. She let me keep Barney though…it was her favorite ornament at age three. She would steal him away to her room every single night. I usually found him hiding under her bed. He brings back so many sweet memories of my not so little girl. PS…your homemade tree was gorgeous.

  3. Do they still make construction paper chains in first grade? Our tree has mine from 74 years ago, George’s from 44 years ago, Hunter’s from 9 years ago and Courtney’s from 6 years ago. I’ll say one thing for that construction paper, it keeps it color through the years.

  4. That is simply amazing that a 74-year-old construction paper chain is still intact and unfaded. I loved your sleek twig but I understand the allure of tradition. Like you, I remember the origin of every ornament. Unwrapping each one is the equivalent of a “Facebook status update” beaming in from an old friend on the far end of lost time.

  5. We buy a new ornament each year and have almost replaced the cheap ones we bought for our very first tree 20 years ago. I love my ornaments. 🙂
    Merry Christmas!

  6. We usually buy a real tree, one which takes over the living room; we spend at least half a day decorating it with ornaments old (made by my grandmother), medium (paper chains and polystyrene balls with 3 kgs of glitter, made by our children) and new (bought to replace ones broken by our cat last year). Since my children left home, decorating has been a one-woman affair, done just by me, as my husband is at work when this particular job is done.
    This year, we’ve moved to a new country and I’m sorely tempted to buy a tree exactly like the one in your photo above. I think it would look amazing in our new, ultra-modern home.
    You’ve inspired me, I’ll go out tomorrow and order one!

  7. One of the things I look forward to as I age is having those memory-lane ornaments. I have a few from my childhood and now Mr. D and I make each other an ornament every year so we have a visual momento to remember each year.

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