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Spruce Up, Trim Down for the Holidays

This year, I've made my home into a cozy Christmas wonderland on a wreath-shaped budget of $0. Yes, zero. One big, round O. Like Santa's belt. Like the halo on Baby Jesus. PIN THAT, SUCKAZ.

You see, I'm attempting to take the magical, glittering high road between grinchiness and greed. I'm seeking that sweet spot where whimsy and the true meaning of the holidays come together. In that spirit, my goal is to maximize the magic of the season while cutting the crap.

This merry season begins just after the holiday weekend when we gave thanks for what we already have. Thanskgiving also kicks off a season of gleeful excess, and in many ways, I'm fine with that. I'm fine with eating rich foods on special occasions, buying and doing frivolous things just to spread joy during a dreary month, and the decorating/fashion look that Dolce and Gabbana describe as "more is more." Feasting and glitter-bombing are seasonally appropriate behaviors that are deeply embedded in human nature. There is a season for everything, and right now 'tis the season for shiny, sprinkle-covered excess.

But there's fun excess, and then there's gross excess. Vosges chocolates made with fair trade, fresh, organic ingredients, wrapped purple satin ribbons, is the good kind; trampling Walmart employees to death over a TV sale is what makes the world hate America.

My idea of "big spending" this year is spending loads of time having fun with my little Nux Gallica, who is almost three years old now! I'll be spending lots of time, though very little money, on trimming the upcycled tree with inherited ornaments, baking and frosting homemade cookies, pulling out the old Christmas mugs to fill with spiced cider and hot cocoa, and singing Christmas carols by the fireside.

One of the upsides of our culture's obscene culture of excess is that if you try, you can get literally buried in free Christmas cheer. If you find yourself in the odd position of having no Christmas decorations, just ask relatives and friends for hand-me-downs via a Facebook post. Boom, watch out. Or get down like Macklemore and visit the thrift shop. (While you're at it, play Santa and haul in a giant bag of all the obnoxious battery-powered things your relatives bought for your kids last year. Ahh, doesn't that feel good?)

If you're crafty, skip the overpriced, new craft supplies, but do pull out last year's holiday cards and wrapping paper, or gather natural/biodegradable materials like evergreen boughs, red-twig dogwood branches, pine cones, gingerbread, pomegranates, oranges, and cloves, and create some soulful, traditional crafts with the whole family.

I love the ancient tradition of bringing evergreens indoors. I haven't been in an especially crafty mood since giving birth, but I love bringing all my potted plants indoors in the fall and filling up the inside of my house with greenery. It makes everything feel peaceful and serene--of course, this is only true if your children will not dump them over or eat the dirt--and it even improves the indoor air quality. Live plants inside the home really take down the stress level during a hectic time of year.

Here are a few shots of my budget-zero Christmas season living room, the day I got it started while Nux was at school. I tidied up and decked the halls just enough to set the mood before letting Nux go through the old bins of hand-me-down heirloom decorations. Note the cheerful use of toys as decorative elements. This helps put the fun in functional.




And after Nux came home from school and helped me finish...





Everything we used tells a story. The star atop the tree was made by Nux. The rocking horse ornaments were collected by DaddyMan's parents when he was a little boy. The wrapped gift under the tree contains a pair of My Little Ponies that Nux picked out for a homeless girl her age, a fellow MLP fan, who will receive gifts through the Giving Tree at Nux's Sunday school. 


I'll admit that I am not putting up a live Christmas tree this year (unless you count my lightly decorated Norfolk island pine). Each year, we are adding something a little more magical to the Christmas decor at our home, which fills Nux with excitement. When she was a mobile and adventurous baby, we simply put up a giant window cling of a Christmas tree on the living room window and piled the presents beneath it. She thought that was pretty neat. The next year, we set an inexpensive, sparkly tree-shaped decoration on a table (the one you see on the steamer trunk coffee table above) and put the presents under that. This year, Nux came home from preschool to find a life-sized, lit tree visible through the front windows!

The hand-me-down tree is one of those pre-lit types, and only half of the lights come on. But of course, I was able to find odd strands of colorful lights to plug together and fill in the gaps. It has the spirit of a Charlie Brown tree, but it actually looks just fine. And after covering it from stem to star with our massive collection of rocking horse ornaments from DaddyMan's childhood, it sparkles and shines like the best of them.

Holiday decorating with small children in the house requires a special attitude to be joyful. It's much safer to use old items--they're layered with history and memories, and there's less stress about things getting broken or worn out. Holiday decorating in adults-only homes and venues is different. It can be nice to create elegant looks with limited color palettes--say, all-white or blue and silver--but decorating for a family with children is all about the cliches. Children don't care about the latest fashions in home design. The more gaudy and colorful, the better. A home with small children is no place for new, expensive knick-knacks.

Besides, the family Christmas home look needs to be ready to incorporate all the merry mess of the big day--crumples of bright wrapping paper, sticky bows on everything, ribbons, glitter, and toys scattered everywhere. There is one season of the year when this kind of chaos is appropriate, and there is one season in your child's life when this time of year will be at the height of its magic. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Across the millennia and around the globe, people celebrate holidays near the winter solstice with stories and songs of hope, lights in the darkness, symbols of new life, family, and the bounty of the earth preserved inside the home. Babies and children are the most precious symbols of hope for the future. So to make the most of the season, we're going to spend lots of time with our little Nux. We'll deck the halls, make merry, and spread the cheer. We'll give and receive gifts thoughtfully--gifts that have real meaning and add true value to our lives--and we'll save our sanity and our wallets by making such a big deal out of the things that really matter that we don't miss any of that other stuff.

Come back on the first Friday Monday of each month for more thoughts from a Middle Path Mother.

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