Christmas trees, trimmings, and tots are not completely incongruous concepts to link together, as long as you keep things realistic. When you have kids and want to celebrate the holidays with them, you need to keep one of the biggest symbols of Christmas--the tree--simple. Here are some suggestions:
- Let the kids pick out the tree. Okay, so if they point to a scrawny Charlie Brown-like tree, or, conversely, to a gigantic behemoth that won't fit through the front door, you have to step in. If your children aren't drawn to trees that would suit your home, give them choices between two or three trees so they feel they're part of the process.
- Pick your tree vendor according to your kids. There's a really charming tree farm near my house that I've been dying to go to. You take a hay ride out into the woods. You use an ax to chop down your tree. It's all so Currier and Ives. But I haven't brought my kids (ages five, five, and two) there yet. The two-year-old likely wouldn't put up with too much time in the cold, damp woods, and the vision of a scream-filled hay ride doesn't exactly put me in the holiday spirit. Until the kids are older, we'll stick with a tree lot. The one we go to offers free hot cider and a "talking" evergreen with googley eyes. We're out in 20 minutes, tops.
- Keep the breakables in storage. Yes, they're beautiful. Yes, they've graced your grandparents' Christmas trees for decades. But if you put those fragile decorations on your tree, know that you're taking a chance. You don't want to spend the entire Christmas season cordoning off the tree from your kids, constantly worried that you'll lose a piece of family history, or that a kid might toss a toy at the tree, knock off the ornament and have it shatter in his eye. If you simply can't have a Christmas without certain breakable treasures, put them in a pretty display far from the kids' reach.
- Clumps be darned. After weeding out your fragile trimmings, crank the Christmas tunes, break out the eggnog, and let the kids place the ornaments on the tree. (You can distribute awkwardly clustered decorations more evenly when the angel children are in bed.) We make a game out of having Daddy pick the kids up so they can put the decorations around the top of the tree.
- No tinsel. Whenever I think of these silvery strands, I remember my favorite movie, "It's a Wonderful Life," when Mary is helping the Bailey kids sprinkle threads of tinsel on the tips of the Christmas tree branches. But once my kids were born and began mouthing everything in sight, I decided to forgo the tinsel. It won't return to my family's Christmas tree until our littlest member no longer thinks it's great fun to stuff golf balls in his mouth.
Remember, your kids won't be crazy little wrecking machines forever. They'll eventually turn into sullen teens with absolutely zero interest in trimming the tree with Mom and Dad while Bing and Burl Ives croon in the background. There are plenty of years ahead for perfect Christmas trees, complete with tinsel and fragile ornaments. And by then, I'll be fondly remembering my sad-looking trees with the half-eaten strands of cranberries and popcorn dangling like hangman's nooses, and long for a moment of innocence.