When I was a child we would head to the Christmas tree farm the Saturday after Thanksgiving and spend hours locating the perfect tree. At least it seemed like hours when I was a child. My mom would bring hot chocolate and we would listen to Christmas songs in the car. It was the official beginning of the Christmas season in our house.
Once we got home I was always so eager to decorate. And it drove me crazy that it took forever to get the tree off the car roof, trim the bottom and branches and lug it into the house. And once it was inside I still had to wait for my parent to string the lights and garland before we could get to the REAL decorating. I could see all those boxes of ornaments and stockings and trains just waiting to be unpacked. The anticipation killed me. And my parents also probably wanted to kill me! There was so much boring stuff that had to be done before the fun – and typically we didn’t even get to the fun part until the next day.
Make Decorating Fun for Everyone
Decorating for Christmas has always been an event for me. Even when it was just my husband and I – I made it in to a special day. I’d make a fancy charcuterie platter and open a bottle of wine. My husband would feast and I would decorate. Making an event out of decorating makes it special. Something to look forward to. Now that we have three kids we typically put up our tree the Saturday after Thanksgiving. After several years and many tantrums and meltdowns I have come up with a system that allows the kids to have a fun day and the decorating to get done.
Get the Boring Stuff Done Ahead of Time
Young kids don’t do well when they are bored and excited. It is a really bad combination. They want to dig right into the real decorating – and I understand. I felt that same way as a child. I really didn’t care how perfectly the garland was hung – I just wanted to put all the shiny balls on the tree! So, my husband and I pre-decorate on Friday night. Once the kids go to bed we bring all the decorations up from the basement and put the tree on the platform. I have time to arrange and fluff the branches. My husband will replace any burnt out light bulbs and hang the garland while I organize the decorations for the next day.
Separate the Kid Friendly Ornaments and Divide Among Kids
A couple years ago my kids were going nuts because it seemed like every ornament box I opened contained a glass ornament or a “special” one and I wouldn’t let them put them on the tree. They were excited and bored and frustrated. I believe my oldest spent a fair amount of time in time out that day. The next year I opened all the ornament boxes the night before and separated them out into Mom and kid piles. I took it one step further and filled a caddy with ornaments for each kid. I counted and evenly divided the kid ornaments. That way they were fairly distributed and the kids could carry their caddies and decorate the tree with their ornaments. This cut down on the bickering tremendously.
We have a few Christmas toys from when the kids were younger – a Little People Nativity Set and North Pole with train, as well as some Christmas Puzzles and games. Along with our Christmas books I bring these up from the basement the night before and set them up in a distant corner of the room. These “new” toys are so exciting that the kids will often stop decorating and play with the little people toys or sit and read the Christmas books. When they were younger I would buy one of those cardboard gingerbread houses to color and play in. Keeping the kids busy with “new” toys allows me to continue decorating for most of the day.
Give the Kids their own Space to Decorate
This is something my mother did. Each of us had a small Christmas tree in our bedrooms that we could decorate however we chose. Our ornaments we received from our parents and grandparents all went on those little trees. Once we got bored with the main decorating we could go upstairs and work on our own rooms. I am still looking for the perfect trees for my kids bedrooms. Now that they are older I want to start this beautiful tradition. In the meantime they decorate my basement with all the old decorations and lights. They have so much fun making this space their own.
Make Decorating an Event
The kids know that it is “Decorating Day”. They get so excited – we play Christmas music and eat appetizers and cookies for lunch. We have hot cocoa and typically end the day with a Christmas movie. It normally coincides with the day our elf returns from the North Pole so there are all sorts of shenanigans and surprises in our house this day!
Use Nap Time Wisely
If you are lucky enough to have children who nap – use that time wisely. Do the “boring” decorations or spend some special time decorating with an older child.
Protect Your Tree with a Baby Gate
Put a baby gate around your tree – it has saved us from many near disasters. Little kids are so tempted to touch all those sparkling babbles and tree branches. It is so easy for a tree to come crashing down. I clearly remember the year my brother knocked down our tree and how my mother cried for all the broken ornaments. I didn’t get it then but I sure do now. That leads to my next point
Don’t hang Special Ornaments on the Tree
If you have young kids, or a cat or crazy dog don’t put your special breakable ornaments on the tree. I only have a few ornaments in this category – vintage ornaments from my grandparents trees, ceramic ornaments my mother made etc. These ornaments are displayed on high shelves or behind closed glass doors in the dining room. I assume that any ornament I put on the tree could be broken.
Take a Break
If the kids get bored – Stop! I am a very driven person – if it is decorating day I fully intend to complete all the decorating that day. But at what price? If the kids are bored and I’m yelling at them, it isn’t fun anymore. Take a break. They may come back to decorating or they may be done. Maybe it’s time for a Christmas movie for the kids, or a family walk. Sometimes bundling the kids up and sending them outside to “help” my husband with the outdoor lights is all we need. By “helping” they will follow him for a bit and then end up on the swing set or in the neighbor’s yard! If all else fails finish up once they have gone to bed. It is more important to have a fun day together as a family than finish decorating the tree in one day.
Don’t Undo Your Kids Work
Remember it’s beautiful. Regardless of how your kids have placed the ornaments your tree is beautiful. The kids will know if you move all their ornaments – don’t let your OCD take over. They intentionally placed the ornaments on specific branches. If there are three ornaments on one branch – they wanted three on one branch. Just let it be. This is not a stage of life where you are aiming for a perfectly decorated tree. This is your family tree that you all love because you decorated it together.