Bad Mom: A Downsizing Christmas Story

Downsizing Christmas - Am I a Bad Mom? Stacey GustafsonThroughout the years, I’ve watched my parents’ attempts at downsizing Christmas. Fifty-two years ago, my mother festooned a real tree with sixty pounds of ornaments, tinsel, and twinkling lights plus adorned the inside of our house with 49 nutcrackers, 19 Santas, 9 hand-knitted stockings, 18 electric candles and an endless assortment of gaudy trinkets that sparkled, glowed or danced.

My father controlled the outside with enough Christmas paraphernalia to shut down the entire block’s power grid. He blanketed the front of our place with lights; bubbled, frosted, tiny and otherwise. He randomly covered it all, from gutters and porch rails to bushes and trees. Like a t-shirt canon at the ballgame, lights spit all over the front of our home, who cares? That’s how you decorated in the 1970s, fire hazard be damned.

Once I got married and had children of my own, I paid attention as my mom quietly purged the holiday clutter.

Downsizing Christmas

Weeks before Christmas we dropped in for a visit.

“Hey, what happened to our old tree?” I said, plucking a tiny ornament from the bough of a new two-foot artificial one perched on an end table.

“Had to scale back,” she said, hands on hips. “Couldn’t handle that big one any longer. Plus, after Christmas, I can just throw a Hefty bag over the top and carry it downstairs.”

Ah, I loved that tree.

Soon the two-footer disappeared too and was replaced with a 16” ceramic tree.

The ultimate grandma tree.

During her last visit to California, I inquired about her downsizing Christmas strategy.

I asked, “How are you decorating for Christmas these days?”

“Wreath on the front door,” she said with a smile and a nod.

I finally get it.

Downsizing Christmas Again

Downsizing Christmas has its own appeal. After doing Christmas for twenty-seven years, I realized that my mother had latched onto a good thing.

Back when my husband and I were newlyweds, our toughest decision at Christmas was live verses artificial tree. Dressed up in our warmest attire, we tromped through the tree farms in search of the perfect one. Then we tricked it out with discounted ornaments from Target and my mom’s hand-me-downs.

Each night we refilled the tree’s bucket with water. But then we went out of town to visit relatives. What did we know? When we returned the ornaments had slipped down to the bottom branches. It was as dry as my grandmas’ hands in the winter.

The next year we downsized to a 6’ artificial tree.

Safety first.

Later, we traded that tree in for a newer model with pre-lit white lights, still in use today.

Three weeks before Christmas, my husband hauled our holiday stuff out of storage, box by box by box, fifteen and counting.

“What are we doing?” I said, dabbing the sweat from my brow. “Nobody seems to care. I understand what my mother was talking about. It’s just too much.”

Our kids have left the nest, daughter works full-time and our son’s a junior in college. Why are we still putting up Christmas? I wondered.

Then one day my daughter called me from work and asked, “Can I come over and see the tree?”

“We’ve been waiting for your call,” I said trying to mask my frustration. “We could use your help.”

I believe that in a family, one regular sized tree must come down before another one goes up; it’s the circle of Christmas. My mother stopped putting up her tree when I moved out and erected my own. It was my daughter’s turn.

After much cajoling, Ashley and her boyfriend arrived ready to assist. They helped her dad assemble the four pieces of the 8’ tree and sprinkled the decorations around the house.

Afterwards, I tried to offer my daughter handfuls of ornaments and assorted elves, Santa’s and snowmen, to take back to her apartment but she said she had enough decorations, maybe later.

“You keep it,” she said as she hugged us goodbye. “I don’t have the room in my tiny apartment. But don’t worry. I plan on coming back home every year to celebrate. You both are Christmas to me.”

Looks like my plans at downsizing Christmas will be put on hold . . . for now.



Class Clown and Parent-Teacher Conference Stacey GustafsonLooking for a good read?
Are You Kidding Me?: My Life with an Extremely Loud Family, Bathroom Calamities, and Crazy Relatives is available on Amazon and eBooks. It’s filled with stories about crazy families, holiday chaos, school disasters and more. Hoping to make you laugh one story at a time. Get your copy now!! Click to purchase on Amazon.

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  1. Great piece! I love “the circle of Christmas.” So true. Thanks for the laughs today!

  2. Eugenia Murphy says

    I love this Stacey…so true…so poiniant. It’s all a mystery.

  3. You write so well, Stacey. Our empty nests don’t need big trees anymore.

    • staceygustafson says

      Yep, going to get a tiny house to backup that claim. Then maybe I put up a Christmas tree sticker on my window.

  4. I was ready to downsize to a table top tree this year – didn’t think the kids would care either way, but hubby brought down the tree from the attic and set it up anyway. My son came home from college and said, “oh good you did put the tree up!” I guess my downsizing plans are on hold too. Haha!

    • staceygustafson says

      Sucked back into decorating by our children. I’ll hold on as long as I can then fake an illness or something.

  5. Gerald L Kovac says

    How true! Sad to say, we don’t even have a wreath. Our excuse: We have nobody who visits us and we go to our children’s house and sit around their tree. Can’t imagine 18 nut crackers…I love nuts…but?

    • staceygustafson says

      No wreath? I bet you have a great time with your kids and grandkids. And I stretched the truth a bit on the Nutcrackers. She actually has 59. Not really. Probably more like one.

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