by Donna Hill
Growing up in a family of four girls, our family celebrated Christmas in a modest manner. Though there are plenty of pleasant memories, looking back I realize that the few Christmas decorations we had were mostly homemade and, quite honestly, rather cheesy.
My mother's mantra was "the more you put out, the more you have to put up," and in honor of her (plus the fact that my eye for decorating apparently has a bad case of astigmatism), I've fiercely carried on the tradition. Little did I know that during my husband's formative years, his mother, Mary, propounded the philosophy that "if a little is good, then a lot must be better" when it came to decorating.
Christmas for Mary begins in July, when she makes her annual trip to our city's planning and zoning commission to apply for a variance in order to add a working ski lift and snow machine to her Snow Village display. Afterward, there's a quick jaunt to the store to purchase sunglasses ("Don't look directly at the tree, children, or you'll damage your retinas") which then reminds her to call the electric company warning them of the impending rolling brownouts in the area beginning in late September. And with the new regional airport being built near her house, there's always the danger of an unintentional landing on her driveway.
Instead of my house looking like a picture print by Currier and Ives, it more closely resembles an Etch-a-Sketch design gone awry. Our tree is laden heavily with nonbreakable ornaments on the bottom boughs—sometimes five or more to a limb—while the unreachable upper section is glaringly bare.
Having learned early in motherhood how easily knickknacks knock over, I've limited our dust collectors (of course I mean table decorations) to mostly stuffed animals, wooden toys, and garland, thus making our house resemble a combination toy store/spaghetti factory, with the spaghetti out of control.
Fortunately, my husband doesn't seem to mind that the life-size nativity display at his mother's house doesn't come close to matching the authentic stable atmosphere of our living room. When my kids ask why we don't have a "real" tree, I merely reply that the amount of dirt and grass that five children drag in sufficiently gives baby Jesus that manger feel without the added nuisance of a spruce. The Three Wise Men could walk through the door and feel right at home.
The only redeeming value of all the brouhaha is the memories our children make each year while desecrating—oops, decorating—the house. Anticipation mounts as my husband brings the well-worn Christmas boxes from the attic.
Shouts of "Hey, do you remember when we made those pipe cleaner candy canes to hang on the tree?" "Cool! I'd forgotten all about stuffed snowmen we put on the hearth," and "Isn't that the nativity scene Daddy used to have in his room when he was a boy?" fill the air. The older kids insist that we play the same Christmas music that we've played each year, despite the fact that it's Mickey Mouse singing the Christmas classics. And regardless of the weather, we all troop outside to watch as Dad plugs in our fiber optic wreaths which, to the delight of our children and the embarrassment of our neighbors, continually change colors.
Over the years, I've realized there's not a right way or wrong way to celebrate Christmas. Whether the grand splendor of my mother-in-law's house or the simple understatement (as I like to call it) of my own, keeping the birth of our Savior in the forefront of our celebrations is the important thing.
There's never a doubt when you walk into Mary's house that Jesus is the central focus of her life, and I hope the same can be said for mine. Both of our houses glorify Jesus, and that's what I want our children to remember.
Copyright 2004 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.
Looking for help or inspiration this Christmas? FamilyLife offers several resources to help your family focus on Christ during your Christmas celebration. The Ever Thine Home® Christmas collection includes ornaments and other decorations help you honor Christ and proclaim your faith. The 12 Names of Christmas™ ornaments are designed to help you teach your children about Jesus is and why He came to live among us. And in When Christmas Came, Barbara Rainey reveals the substance of Christmas in poignant prose and vivid watercolors.