tree style

My favorite time of year was when the ornament box came up from the basement.  Our tree was old-school.  Soldiers.  Mice.  Wooden toys.  Sleds.  Very Nutcracker makes out with Santa’s workshop. My sister Lea and I each had our favorite ornaments, housed in their pockets, wrapped in fine white tissue paper.  We didn’t care for the shiny balls or stinging of the lights; we left those tasks to our mother.  We favored the more expressive ornaments.  Lea liked the small skiers reserved for the top of the tree, while I liked the typewriter ornament best.  It looked copper, and I loved to press on it each year and pretend I was typing.  When we pulled the crinkled paper from their neat cardboard homes, my mother instructed, “careful girls.” And it was one of the times, even though we were very excited, that we were also very gentle, like holding the class pet for the first time.  We forgot each year just how many decorations there were.  Ooooh, I forgot about these!  “These” were the smaller ornaments my mother instructed us belonged toward the top of the tree, where the branches didn’t need to be weighed down by heavier items.  Some were “filler,” reserved for the back of the tree where visitors wouldn’t see them as much.  The special ornaments belonged in the front.   

As we got older, my mother upgraded the tree to a more Victorian style with silk bows, fine crystal, and white twinkle lights.  The tree looked pink.  Sometimes she’d complain that it looked too “Linda Trevor.”  Linda was her “Miss Garden City” WASPY friend who prohibited her children from watching I Love Lucy and still had the house baby-proofed even though her girls were in fifth grade.  So my mother tried to liven it up by stringing cranberry beads ‘round the tree.  It didn’t help.  It still looked uptight.

When I grew up and out, I struggled with what theme to make my tree.  I thought of buying chandelier parts from the 23rd Street flea market and making a chic designer tree, laced with brand name ribbons and vintage bows.  Then I thought of doing a nautical theme with seashells, sailboats, and distressed wooden oars.  In New York?  Wouldn’t work.   I could do a candy tree, where I could make cookie ornaments and string Lifesaver candies around the tree, looping candy canes on heavy branches and leaving gumdrop ornaments and sugarplum fairies for the top of the tree.  Candy necklaces and enormous candy cocktail rings.  I don’t even have a sweet tooth.  Then I tried to really zero in on what my interests were, and I was convinced I wanted to do a kitchen-themed tree.  I could hang my copper cookie cutters and measuring spoons as ornaments, use bakery twine as tinsel, bundle some cinnamon sticks in kitchen twine, hang some hand-painted teacups, my wire Kitchenaid whisk.  What?  It could work.  But how festive is that?  I finally settled on a theme.  Something to do with felt animals dressed in Dior.  It’s my nod to Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas.  I cannot wait to decorate a tree again.  This year, though, I’ll be in Florida with my mother, listening to her ask about five or six dozen times, “So, do you like the tree this year?  I mean really?  Is it too pink?”   



  1. Leigh, I feel that way too, that's why I want a train to run around the base of it with one of those old-school plaid blankets. I also feel that way about a silver banana leaf serving tray I have. When I was younger, my mother used to serve company pineapple on the dish, and when it wasn't in use, she placed it on the dining room table. When I was old enough to have my own apartment, I assured her it was the only thing I wanted. She couldn't part with hers so she bought me another one.

  2. Steph—believe me, pink trees are ****better**** than what my mother displays. As she hits her ‘golden years’, she started getting a bit lazy about decorating—but all of her daughters (me and my girlfriend) help do this—so it’s not a big deal for her.

    We used to get big fat trees that we picked out at a farm nearby. Yes—I live in New York, but a bit upstate. A farm in NYC? *scratches head*

    Anyway, my mother started this horrific trend two years ago. Her ‘new Christmas tree’ is one of those Walmart/Walgreen/Drug store ~already been put together~—only 2 feet high type of tree. Oh wait- there’s absolutely NO decorating involved! It lights up for you by itself—like those tacky lights in one of those fun stores that sells disco paraphernalia…It’s just awful. It sits upon a table in front of this huge window.

    So…being the evil daughter that I am, I called her up pretending I was her neighbor Marie.

    “Hello Rose? This is Marie…”
    “Oh hello Marie, how are you?”
    “Great, but I have a concern…you see, I noticed that this year, you put up a tree from one of those drug stores. Is everything okay? It looks just awful!”
    “Oh..umm…well…errrr….yeah…I did get this tree from Walmart.”

    Of course I told her it was me, and we had a good laugh. She now is self-conscious about her department store tree.

    I offered to pick out a big fat tree & decorate it myself, as well as take it down after the holidays, but no. She didn’t want that. She said it was a “fire hazard”. Sure. I don’t blame her, but what gets me is, she falls asleep sometimes with a cigarette in her hand. She also has an oil burner that has been red tagged—yet still running.

    Isn’t that a fire hazard?

  3. Ahhhh…sounds as if you are feeling better. Last night I tackled our tree. First time without help from "the kids." I was worried it would be too hard, but each ornament (and we s many) was a trip down memory lane. I have only asked my husband three times this morning if it looked okay, and I am sure I will compound this many times over this weekend when my youngest gets home from college.

    Here's to your Mom's "pink" tree.

    Ciao for now…


  4. I love your rendering of the tree details — the cookie cutters, the train and plaid blankets. I've been walking around Manhattan feeling taken aback by all the flashing "ONLY XX SHOPPING DAYS LEFT" signs and generally checked out of the "Christmas spirit." You have such a gift for perfectly describing aspects of life that belong in childhoold time capsules.

    Totally off-topic but I wonder how you solved the post-shower haircare dilemna? My curls are starting to look less like Jhirmack bounce-back beautiful and more like Shakira. Any recommendations?

  5. This is my first year for a Christmas tree. My roommate Sarah insisted on a getting a REAL tree and it is taller then me! She got out her box of old ornaments, ones she made at school, at church. I got sad b/c I realized I don't have any ornaments or anything I actually made! So we made some together. Our tree is full of old dried play dough ornaments, new play dough ornaments, old glass balls, candy canes, anything I wanted to put on it! Now it glows every night in the front window of our house!
    You just get a warm feeling looking at it! :)

  6. Oh I LOVE IT…I just spent a fortune on ornanments last night, as its my first tree away from my mother's tres prentious tree!

    I slowly saw myself picking up the gold, gaudy ornaments..horrified..I picked up the lime green ones instead.

  7. My law office has the most uniform (read: dull) tree I've ever seen. No originality whatsoever. In my highly regimented & organized daily life, it's no wonder that I love my tree at home to be absolutely full of commotion and chaos.

    All the lovely old family ornaments collected over the years–all disjointed and no theme in sight. It may look a little junky, but I love all the memories each ornament holds. It reminds me of all the expectancy and excitement of holidays as a child and home and all those warm fuzzy things…

  8. It's also my 'very first tree of my own'. I was nervous on picking the right tree, and the right ornaments, I wanted it to be perfect. But my boyfriend did not agree with my carefully planned color scheme. So I just went on a whim and bought blue, green and lime green ornaments (didn't know they were in fashion with other people too :) ). And it looks amazing. There aren't any childhood memories stuck on these ornaments, but we're creating new memories right now.

  9. Reading 100 things about me-

    32. I am ¼ Greek, ¼ Puerto Rican, ¼ Russian, and ¼ Austrian
    33. I was raised Jewish, had a bat mitzvah, went to Hebrew school, yet my mother is Greek Orthodox.

  10. Stephanie–Aren't moms lovely and amazing that way? Aside from her childhood ornaments, my mum graciously gave me a beautiful painting that was my great aunt's from the 1920s…She loved it, but she knew I did too, so she just took it off the wall and gave it to me. It's those family heirlooms and traditions that I value more than anything new and shiny.

    P.S. I love the train idea–I may have to borrow that tradition!

  11. Oh, man. I am so busted. When I first started society life, the perfect decor house, I couldn't "bear" to put green and red Christmas decorations in my pink and blue Monet themed living room. (I'm sure I decided this wearing overpriced clothes and overprocessed hair.) So I had this ornate crystal themed tree. I kid you not–the ornaments were all Swarovski and Waterford, Lalique and Baccarat. It wasn't Christmas, it was show and tell, a wealthy one-up-manship.

    Fortunately, I escaped and I am a "real" person again. Now my tree is laden with hand made ornaments by my kids, lacquered macaroni and foamie stickers. My old tree might have had a net worth greater than many people's automobiles, but my new one is actually worth something. If a crystal Christmas is the price of freedom, then I'll take my popcorn strings any day.

  12. I love that my parents' tree still has all the old ornaments. some we made, some we picked out. I decorated mine last night. picking the old ornaments out of their tissue I realized I would never want a themed tree. then you can't put all the memories on it.

  13. I *loved* Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas growing up! I have the DVD!!

    BTW, so happy for your success (from a fellow Barnard grad).

  14. I loved your post.

    I have two preschool boys 3 and 5 and I have a tree with frame little pictures of them all over it. And I have all there little preschool art creations on it too. Each time I turn the lights on the tree they scream and the 3 year old wants me to move his bed under the tree.

    For all the little reasons, it's the best Christmas I've ever had.

    Merry Xmas Stephanie!

  15. I work in a domestic violence shelter and spent the evening cutting out snowflakes and making candy canes out of pipe cleaners with the kids I work with. And now I'm totally crushin' on our tree because it's freakin' fantastic. Some of the kids made dinosaurs and monsters and some made butterflies and hearts and I love it! I'm not into the whole themed tree thing. And I'll be in Florida too, but I grew up there.

  16. While we're on the subject of "too pink," my friend Marcia bought a silver artificial tree and strung pink lights on it.

  17. aw… I'm sad, that means you won't be in town for Christmas? Oh well… I saw this thing on t.v. last week about the window dressings for the department stores in NYC, and now I'm even more excited. So if any of you guys are walking around and see a blonde (all dressed in black, to blend in…) standing with her face smooshed up on the saks fifth avenue window, drooling, that will be me. :)

  18. Hey I have a Christmas tree I have planted myself .
    B’lieve me its fun to decorate ur own tree.
    As of now the tree is pretty young so I cannot decorate it with huge, heavy ornaments.
    Instead I have used cotton which looks like snow from a distance.
    It looks pleasant and different as it doesn’t snow here…ever…:(
    I am gonna wait for it to grow to its full height so that I can have a theme for the decoration.
    Merry X’mas Stephanie.

  19. Dont worry Stephanie honey,"Miss Garden City" didnt influence you with her uptight WASP ways. As evidence peruse this post. Old school WASPs believed out of reasons of modesty in written and spoken word one should use "I" quite sparingly, and that aint you babydoll!!!!!

  20. I feel so validated now that I've encountered another person who's seen Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas. For years I've only received blank stares when I list it as one of my favorite Christmas movies. I just got the DVD for my birthday — can't wait to watch it again.

  21. I saw a tree the other day that was a lot like an umbrella – well, at least in that it folded out, fully decorated. Kind of cool, but a little too perfect…I like my trees to be a bit messy. Like my life.

  22. I swore to myself that this year I was not going to be a total scrouge, and for some dammed reason, I am keeping to it. Last night, my barn mates and I went caroling(making a joyful noise really), and I helped a friend with her "tree"-read fake plastic thing from Wallyworld, drank HBR's until we were plowed, and fell asleep on her couch listening to her collection of christmas music. Lovely, huh?

    I miss having a real tree-When I was growing up, we would go up in the woods near Plummer, Id in the summer and "tag" the tree that we wanted for christmas with a bright pink ribbon(and a smaller tree for my Grandmother's hearth tree, or as we always called it, "The birdhouse"-she had only bird ornaments for this tree). And I was always entrusted to know where we went-my Grandpa was known for getting drastically lost without a marked trail. Then, 4-5 days before Christmas, we would trudge through the snow, find the tree and cut it down, and drive the 40 or so miles back home with this jewel in my Grandpa's truck. We would drag it(and it's cousin, our hearth tree), in through the "mud" room,down the hall, open up the french doors and put it in the middle of the livingroom.Decorations would appear , and voila:Christmas made it's grand appearance!

    Honestly,I miss that house, I miss my grandfather, and I miss that kind of Christmas-there was a definate innocence in my life then. Great post Stephanie!

  23. I am right there with you about Emmet! My favorite. I can still feel the guilt from when he whacked the whole in the washtub!

  24. When I was little I had a friend who's parents were a bit "well-off" we'll say. I remember the first time I heard that they had 3 Christmas trees, all with different themes. I couldn't understand why. I mean, which one was the special one then? The one with all the old, hand-made ornaments and memories on it? I LOVE it that my family has only ever put up one tree…no matter how many ornaments crowd onto it each year. So what if it's drooping with 20-yr-old memories, that's what it's supposed to do. It's a symbol of our family. That's Christmas.

  25. TIM –
    You may want to read the comments before you post questions.

    Because the FACTCHECKER told us this –

    Reading 100 things about me-

    32. I am ¼ Greek, ¼ Puerto Rican, ¼ Russian, and ¼ Austrian
    33. I was raised Jewish, had a bat mitzvah, went to Hebrew school, yet my mother is Greek Orthodox.

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