When times are tight, Christmas can be stressful — especially when you have small children. Little ones look forward to the decorative and glittering part of the holiday, but when money is in short supply sometimes that can be a challenge. That was just the case at my house during Christmas 2001.
I was 29 years old with a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old and a 5-month-old that particular Christmas. Money was tight and we were living in a tiny, drafty cabin that year. We had moved a few months earlier from a large, roomy home and in the process of moving, the Christmas decorations we had were packed away in storage and couldn’t be retrieved.
We had saved money to buy a new artificial tree but we couldn’t — and didn’t want to — spend money to buy all new decorations. There wasn’t enough money to go around and even if there were, it would make no sense to buy all new decorations. With small children, though, that logic doesn’t make sense. My children were really hoping for a beautiful Christmas tree; despite the financial limitations, I was determined to give it to them.
In order to make a beautiful and festive holiday at our home, I set to work with my two oldest helping me and the baby watching. We made all of our decorations that year.
I used a skein of red and green yarn I had and crocheted an extra-long chain to use as garland on the tree. With construction paper, crayons, scissors and string, the two oldest kids and I made ornaments. We cut out shapes and glued sequins into place. We traced around Christmas cookie cutters (a heart, a star and a tree), then cut them out and decorated them with yarn and sequins. We twisted red and white pipe cleaners into candy canes to hang, and we did actually buy a box of real candy canes to hang on the tree.
I found some gold lace and threaded green pipe cleaners through lengths of the lace to twist into wreath ornaments. My son (the 4-year-old) drew and colored candy canes on construction paper and we glued, glittered and decorated until that tree was like no other.
As a finishing touch, we made a star out of cardboard then covered it in aluminum foil for the tree topper. Just before Christmas day we made a chain garland out of red and green paper and strung popcorn (and ate as much as we strung) to add to the tree. I wrapped an old quilt around the bottom of the tree for the skirt.
While it was simple, it was the most beautiful tree I have ever seen still to this day and it is, perhaps, my favorite Christmas memory. I still have the crocheted garland, and a paper tree and paper candy cane have managed to survive three more moves over the last 10 years. They might be worn, faded and a little worse for wear, but looking at them takes me back to a day that was so very precious for me and my children, when we learned a very important lesson that happiness is truly homemade.