Thursday, November 29, 2012

How to Have a Pretty Christmas Tree Even When the Kids Decorate It

Christmas tree decorating is suppose to be fun right? It's something families do together and where sweet memories are made. Right?

this year's tree, 2012
Well, I have 5 kids. I have been letting kids decorate the Christmas tree for over a decade now.  And I am embarrassed to admit, my attitude has not always been the best. If I am honest, I am afraid that the memories my kids will remember about the Christmas tree are me stressing over how all the oranaments are clustered in one area leaving all these bare spots, or me getting frustrated when yet another ornament breaks, or me rearranging the ornaments after the kids go to bed.

last year's tree, 2011

If you have kids, I bet your Christmas tree looks like mine. Your ornaments do not match. Every ornament that the kids have ever made plus every ornament that has even been given to your kids hangs on the tree. Just look at the picture below, starting from the top, you see: an upside down doll, a pipe cleaner and yarn sheep, my 15-year-old's preschool Christmas tree, Santa with the Statue of Liberty, and a hand painted zebra!  I bet many of your ornaments, like mine, are clustered on a single branch. And there are probably more ornaments on the bottom half of the tree than the top. Lots of memories, but not quite a tree of style, eh?

Well I think this year and last year, I finally got it. Only took me a decade, but I now know how to have a pretty Christmas tree even with the kids decorating it. And I almost have a new attitude about the whole thing. 

Here are 5 things I have learned after 13 years of decorating a Christmas tree with kids This is how I get a Christmas tree looking good even when the kids help decorate it. 2 of these tips deal with my thoughts and heart (isn't that where everything starts?) and 3 are practical decorating tips.

1. As Rob gets the tree and boxes down from the attic, I repeat over and over to myself:
Christmas is not about me and my decorating skills.
I have had this one page ripped out of a magazine since 2004, a picture of what I wanted my Christmas tree to look like. And secretly I was always disappointed that my tree did not look like that. I mean I studied that tree. I could easily spend 15 minutes looking at this one picture. What??!!  The truth is if I let my kids help decorate the tree, then it should not look like it belongs on the front cover of Better Homes & Gardens. Christmas is not about me and my decorating skills.

2. Before I start decorating (or shopping or crafting or baking or putting dates on the calendar), I figure out what I want our Christmas to look like. We as a family talk about what we want to make sure happens this Christmas season and what would we rather skip. For more questions we talk about, see this post titled, What do you want Christmas to look like?

I try to start the Christmas season not with a to-do list, but by being intentional. I try to set realistic expectations (mainly for myself!!). I mean why do I think that no ornaments will get broken? Every year I got frustrated. . .even yelled. . when an ornament or 2 or 3 or 4 would break. This year the below did not faze me. This year we actually laughed together as a family that only 3 ornaments broke and 2 of those 3 could be hot glued back together so the total was only 1!  Laughter. . .that is what I want my kids to remember.

3. I use lots and lots of lights. You can never have too many lights. And it does not matter if they are white, colored, blinking, or bubbly, or a mixture of all those. Lights make a tree pretty. I make sure our tree has lots of lights. We make sure the lights are deep, close to the tree trunk as well as on the outside branches.

And just a side note: Rob and I have finally learned that we set up the tree and the lights at night after the kids go to bed and then the next morning we decorate the tree. Everything is more peaceful and fun that way. Took us a long time to get that too; we used to do it all in one day and the kids could not stand the wait of getting the tree set up and the lights on. And we could not stand their impatience. But anyway, use lots and lots of lights. Just look at that glow:

4. After the kids have hung all the ornaments, I take out a box of icicles. And I hang an icicle on almost every branch tip. . ok, not every branch tip. But I do use the whole box of 50 icicles. My icicles are just cheap plastic ones from Michaels:

It is hard to have a Christmas tree theme when you have kids. And when a tree does not have a theme it tends to look weak and not put together. So to pull my tree together from top to bottom and to add just a little more sparkle, I hang lots and lots of icicles. Your eye connects the icicles and the tree looks put together instead of random. See the picture below; your eye moves from icicle to icicle, doesn't it?

5. I use lots of picks. I pick up (no pun intended, lol) a new set of picks every year. They are inexpensive and make a huge impact. My favorite places to shop for picks are Walmart, Michaels, and Garden Ridge.

I let my kids hang all the ornaments, but the icicles and the picks are my job. Just like icicles, picks make a tree look pulled together from top to bottom. Picks give a random, no theme tree a little bit of cohesiveness and uniformity. Plus picks are perfect for all those bare spots the kids leave. 

I nestle picks all throughout the tree. I try to make a triangle pattern with one set. And then I take another set of identical picks and start making triangle patterns with that set. And so on.  And then at the top, I put lots of picks just sticking straight out.

Rob says our tree is Fireworks meets Las Vegas meets Christmas. David says is our tree even a tree? It looks like just a blob of color and glitter. I say it is a tree that is pretty. . and a tree that the kids helped decorate. . .and a tree that I maintained a good attitude while we all worked together on it. I say it is almost perfect.

So, how does your family decorate the Christmas tree? Do you let your kids decorate the tree? Do you have separate trees? Do you have a themed tree or a random one? Do you use icicles or picks? And please tell me I am not alone in my mind and heart adjustment.


  1. I do all Snowmen and have the most fun getting them out each year and remembering where they came from or who gave them to me...I too put the lights on at night on the porch so I don't make a big mess and then decorate it the next day. I usually do all the work with a little help from the hubby and 4 year old. This year I already have a great memory of decorating...I left about 10 ornaments out that my husband usually puts on the tree...he didn't get to them on Sunday night so they were sitting on the ottoman...when we got home on Monday from work/daycare I got busy with something else and about 15 min later my "little 4 yr old helper" showed me how he helped and put all those ornaments on the tree! yes, they were a little clumped together but still I loved that he did it all on his own with no help and was so proud of himself!

    Last night I caught my husband staring at the tree and asked why...he said just looking at the pretty tree! what a nice compliment! :)

  2. I have to say...this is one of the BEST post (about any subject!) I have ever read. Seriously. You hit the nail squarely on the head. I generally hate doing our tree; you have helped me to look forward to it. AND....I just happen to have a zillion frosty white picks leftover from my daughter's wedding. I know exactly where they're going. Thanks, Judy

    1. Judy-

      Your comment made me smile :) Thanks for the encouragement. I so want to see a picture of your tree with all those frosty white picks on it!! And how cool is it that the picks are from your daughter's wedding. . bring back sweet memories, get to recycle something,AND pull that tree all together.

  3. I think your tree is gorgeous - it's full of color and sparkle, what else could you ask for in a tree? I really like the tip about doing the lights the night before, I will definitely use that this year. When we moved into our new house I thought it would be cool to have a second tree at the top of the stairs.

    In January 2012 I bought a display model tree from JC Penny (got a great deal) and lots of ornaments at 90% off to decorate said tree. Last week when my boys (5 and 7) were so excited to decorate a tree we put "their" tree up and went to town. I intentionally bought most of the ornaments in plastic or paper, there are only a few breakables on there.

    I always let them decorate the big tree too, I never mind their homemade ornaments -my mom always kept mine and my sisters on her tree (which was very thematic). It was fun as a teenager to put up the gold spray-painted macaroni-glued bell that I made in preschool!

  4. Su - your tree is gorgeous! I love all of your suggestions, both practical and mindset. Thanks for helping guide us all in being more intentional every day.

  5. Your tree is absolutely beautiful and your children will always remember what a wonderful mother they had growing up who let them decorate that tree!! You are marvelous!!
    Pat L.

  6. Thank you for sharing your life and your traditions, I enjoy and use tons of your ideas. Your tree is gorgeous. I have not used picks but I will now! -Mary

  7. LOVE this post! Thanks for reminding us to check the heart/attitude before trimming the tree. I don't know about anyone else, but it is JUST what I needed to help me think Mary, not Martha. I also have a variety of different ornaments. I tuck solid balls with glitter embellishments in the bare spots to fill it in and make an attempt at a color scheme. And I do something similar to your icicles, only mine are little ornaments shaped like those old school glass Christmas lights (my hubby calls them C-9 bulbs?). I did grab some picks this year and can't wait to try your tip about placing them in a triangle pattern. thank you!!

  8. Just finished fighting our way through the decorating (not good ) wish I'd read this first. How do you do triangles with the picks - must be a bit slow but Im not getting how it is done.

    1. Hi Mandy. . oh we have all been there :) Peace to your heart, mind,a and home. Triangles with the picks. . take a pick and stick it in the tree. . not imagine that pick as the top of your triangle and draw to imaginary diagnol lines to make a triangle and put 2 more picks there. Now take one of those picks and imagine it as the top of a new triangle and draw 2 more imaginary lines to form a triangle and put 2 more pick there. . I hope that makes sense. The picks go in the "corners" of the triangles. Warmly- Su

  9. I think your tree is gorgeous, and this post was just what I needed to read today! We're putting lights on ours today. ;)

  10. Your tree looks so pretty and homey. (I remember the days when my little ones would hang all the ornaments on one branch...)

  11. I love this post. I am stopping by from the Titus 2 link up. I have 4 little ones and so this year when lots of ornaments broke (are still getting broken as little hands pluck them from the tree) I got frustrated! Next year will be a more peaceful experience, hopefully! I love the picks at the top, I have mine throughout but am thinking a trip to Micheal's sounds fun!

  12. I love all the colors and the tree topper. Very nice!

  13. Love letting the kids do it! Thanks for sharing!

  14. Hi Su,

    I wanted to let you know that you did it again! You helped me with my Christmas tree. I let my stepson decorate and all the ornaments were jumbled and then I bought some icicles from Michaels and put them up; it looks great! I'm going to look for those picks you mentioned too!

    Thanks for your blog. You have no idea how it helps my home life. Merry Christmas!


  15. Perfect Indeed!! Your lessons are worth reading, wish I would have seen before putting up the family tree this year! Merry Christmas!

  16. Thank you! I searched "how to decorate kids christmas tree" or something like that and found your post. Loved it. I have let my kids decorate for a few years now and ornaments do break every year. The collection also grows every year :) Our tree has colored lights which is not my first choice, but there is no sense in spending more on another tree since this one was given to us for free. The icicles and pick are just the idea I needed and that great reminder that Christmas is not about my decorating skills.

    1. HI Jessica-

      Glad you found me. Hope you will come back :) I remember one of my husband and my first fights was over white lights or colored lights :) If I had only known then what I know now. You are going to have a beautiful tree this year!

  17. I absolutely love your tree! Last year was our first Christmas in our new home and I was so busy making decorations for our mantle and the rest of the house that all of our ornaments got thrown on our themeless tree. This year our daughter is two and has started her own little collection of ornaments so I decided to start her a separate tree with a tree that was left in the attic when we moved here. I think it will be a fun tradition for her as she grows up yet I can still have my tree (primitive theme this year). I'm hoping this year I can direct her to her tree when she wants to move the ornaments 100 times. I also have wrapped 25 Christmas books/movies and put them in a basket under the tree for her to unwrap every night. Now I just have to find a festive blanket for us to all snuggle with as we spend family time together! As for my husband.... he told me as soon as we got married that all the decorating was up to me! I'm so thankful because I am a perfectionist and have not conquered this flaw!

    Merry Christmas and thanks for posting! It gave me some good ideas for helping my daughter decorate her tree!! :)

  18. I found your post from browsing Christmas tree decorating ideas to determine what else I would like to buy on clearance for next year. I wanted to let you know that your style of tree is exactly what I have always wanted my tree to look like even before having kids! I love mismatched ornaments that make a tree unique! Thanks for the tips on using icicles and picks to make it more uniform, I haven't tried that yet.

  19. Your tree is beautiful! I was thinking of doing a "theme" tree this year, but my kids still want to do colored lights and all of their decorations (they are 21 & 16). thank you for putting it all in perspective! I will be purchasing lots of picks to help give our tree a more "put together" look! Thank you again for such a wonderful post!


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