Be Well Family: My Christmas Decorating Fail

Screw you, Pinterest.



My mother has the most beautiful Lenox holiday china – white, ringed with simple holly leaves. We used that china (along with special holiday napkins) in between Thanksgiving and New Year’s virtually every year of my life. That wasn’t all: She also has multiple nativities; stockings my grandmother crocheted; a snowman that sings a holiday medley when you press a button; an advent calendar we’ve had since 1980; plus several poinsettias, wreaths, mini trees for the front porch, candles, table-runners, Nutcrackers, the whole deal. I realize as I catalog it here that it maybe sounds a little over-the-top, a tad vulgar, but believe me when I say that it really isn’t, and it never was: It was magical. It felt special.

Me? I have a $14 light-up wreath from the hardware store down the street (with no batteries installed yet), stockings I bought from Target, and a Christmas tree with all the usual fixings. We had an advent calendar, but I have no idea where it is. We did manage to find and display a Santa and Frosty salt-and-pepper shaker set, which we only own because my mom gave it to us, and an Elf on the Shelf, which we only own because my mother-in-law gave it to us. (Note: Not sure if tools of child behavior manipulation also counts as decoration?) Speaking of my mother-in-law: She is also a decorator of epic proportions. Her house basically transforms into a Dickensian Village every Christmas. She actually has a 100-square-foot holiday closet. No joke.

Alas, I’m not much of a collector of things — which is evidently a generational trait, particularly when it comes to the holiday ephemera many of our parents have accumulated over the years. And even if I was into hoarding holiday knick-knacks, well, I live in a typical Philly house: I have nowhere to keep holiday decorations the other 11 months of the year. In fact, throughout those 11 months, I’m pretty happy with our relatively minimalist lifestyle. Also, I can barely manage normal household chores. Hanging silvery garland on the banister seems somewhat luxurious when the bathtub hasn’t been washed in three weeks. And yet, despite all this, I always feel a sort of twinge around this time of year: Am I making our home feel special enough around Christmas? Am I depriving my kid of some of the holiday fun I had growing up?

Look: I know what Christmas is really about — and it’s not singing snowmen or Elves on Shelves or silvery garlands. But the whole deck the halls thing exists for a reason, too, you know? It’s part of the joyousness of the season. And yet I stand in awe of people so fueled by the dual thrust of holiday merriment and self-discipline that they actually get up on ladders to put lights on their roofs, only to do it again and take them down four weeks later.

To be fair, here, we’re not exactly grinches: We play a lot of Christmas music; we make spiced tea for the neighbors. We watch Curious George’s A Very Monkey Christmas on a loop. (Not entirely by choice.) And we’re taking advantage of all of the holiday spirit found right outside our front door — a huge perk of living in the city. Wintergarden at Dilworth Park! Santa at the Liberty One Observation Deck! Winterfest on the Delaware! I mean, does this look like the face of a kid deprived of holiday joy?



Holiday Magic, via LED screen

I snapped this picture last year at the Comcast Center, which has seasonal magic out the yang. (It snows! Inside!) We’ve got plans to go see it this week. We’ve also walked through Christmas Village, had hot chocolate with “smashmallows”, begun gathering toys for neighborhood toy drives, chatted with Santa’s elf and Mrs. Claus atop one of the city’s biggest skyscrapers. We’ll find a horse-drawn “sleigh” to ride next weekend at Independence Mall or Sister Cities Park, and we’ll probably try to catch the light show at Macy’s (ugh, I know, but aren’t we basically required as Philadelphians to go?). We’ll make a trip to Morris Arboretum to see the Holiday Garden Railway. And then probably do Comcast again.

And so in my ongoing internal dialogue about whether I’m hitting the imaginary “holiday magic” bar I’ve set for myself (internal dialogue because my husband thinks I’m insane — that the tree, stockings and a wreath are as much clutter as our house can handle), I’ve been able to rationalize my decorating apathy with the idea that these special experiences are creating the necessary Precious Holiday Memories: It might not be a winter wonderland in the house, but giving our kid the chance to boogie down in the middle of a city in front of a 50-foot LED-screen musical performance of “Jingle Bell Rock” counts for something, right? When he’s my age, perhaps he’ll be writing (fondly, one would hope) about how his mother made Christmas feel extra magical by shooing everyone out of the house to go scream on Santa’s lap, to see the Nutcracker at the Academy of Music, to drive through South Philly and marvel at the lights, to do the gift drives, and etc, etc.

But before I sound too zen and sensible and higher-level about the whole thing here, I should note that just at the time I began adjusting to the idea that our magic was more of the intangible sort, my mother sent us a Fisher Price nativity with a light-up star that plays “Away in a Manger”, as well as a music box with a trio of bears holding brass instruments, playing mechanical-sounding carols. Of course, my three-year-old is delighted with them both — and so, I have to admit, am I. So is my husband, unbelievably.

It’s clutter, sure, but it’s festive clutter.

Obviously, a music box and a nativity do not a wonderland make. But a little, teeny bit of home-decorating (with ties to my mom, the ultimate home decorator) to supplement all of our out-and-about merrymaking has gone a long way to make it feel a lot like Christmas up in here, and to soothe the mild seasonal guilt that comes with not having (and not wanting) a holiday closet of our own. And if I’m being honest, it’s extra awesome because a person who wasn’t me did all the work.

Now if someone could just help me get in the spirit for the bathtub washing …


Be Well Family is a collaboration with Wee Wander, a site dedicated to helping Philadelphia parents navigate their city. See more in this series here, or keep up with all of  Wee Wander’s tips, guides and Philly related parenting help on Facebook

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