This week will bring the end of November, which for many signals the start of Christmas – the official green light to decorate for the holidays. While stores have had items on display for weeks, Thanksgiving has traditionally been a time reserved for decorating as a family, holding off on all Christmas music or décor until after we recover from the turkey-induced tryptophan coma.

Hours spent stringing lights, hanging bows, and trimming the tree. Some people find it therapeutic following a holiday spent with family (insert dysfunction) while others find it anxiety inducing, trying to live up to some expectation of what our homes are supposed to look like for the holidays.

While many were out looking for the best “Black Friday” deal, I was frantically attempting to decorate the house. Considering my lack of enthusiasm to battle massive crowds simply to get a good deal, “Black Friday” is not the tradition I had hoped would make its way across the globe. I can think of others I might appreciate more – like pumpkin pie.

Though I typically avoid shopping centers altogether during this weekend, we were forced to make a trip after realizing we left a lot of our decorations back in America – our lights wouldn’t plug in here and we weren’t keen to ship a 12-foot tree across the world. We will be traveling for the holidays this year, so we decided we didn’t need to go “all out” like we typically do, and opted for a smaller tree and fewer lights. Shopping was surprisingly painless.

After we got home and I pulled out the box of ornaments, it was like a trip down memory lane trying to remember what we did and didn’t bring with us (all packed in the big box labeled seasonal/holiday). At one point, I had to stop and have a laugh as I found a few ornaments the kids had made and labeled ‘Christmas 2014.’

As I was laughing, I turned to everyone and asked, “do you remember 2015?”

Here is how decorating went that year.

Plug in tree. Done.

That’s right. 2015 will forever be remembered in our family and among our friends as the year I left the tree up – all year! And, it was amazing.

I loved our old tree and how it would fill up the entire living area, from floor to ceiling. To put the star on the top, I had to hang over the railings from the second floor. One year, I even stood on my husband’s shoulders to get decorations to the middle of the tree.
I would sit and read by it for hours at night as the lights gave the room a peaceful glow. It is still one of my favorite things about our old home back in America.

In February of that year, I started to wonder if it was time to take it down but at the insistence of my then 3-year old, I kept it up. It was decorated in handmade hearts for Valentine’s Day, eggs and pastels for Easter, and flags for the 4th of July. Month after month, the tree got a new look with every holiday noted on the calendar, until that was simply too much of an effort.

By August, it seemed silly to take it down knowing it would need to go back up in just a few months. Getting through the summer felt like crossing the finish line after a marathon. Hallelujah!

When September rolled around, it felt perfectly acceptable to still have a tree up as we all have those friends who start decorating for Christmas in July (my mother-in-law is one of them). Anyone who came to the house thought I was just really on top of my game that year. Little did they know.

Our daughter turned 3 that October and we hosted a “Frozen” sing-a-long party to ring in the occasion. I completely overdid it on the decorations and party that year, likely to overcompensate as our life at home had been in shambles for months leading up to the occasion. At the party, many people commented on how impressed they were that I had tackled holiday decorating so early. I let a few people in on the secret, but let the rest continue to think I was a décor master. I eventually told all of them a few weeks later when they were stressing about decorating their own homes.

Plug in tree. Done.

The story became one of those things we laughed about. “Remember the year mommy left the tree up?” Or among friends, “you actually did it!” I took the tree down by myself a few days after Christmas that year simply because I knew if it extended into January I could potentially be looking at a two-year run.

One of my girlfriends came over and stood in the living room shocked, having felt like she was seeing our home for the first time once it was gone.

I remember at one point thinking about it and all that our family went through that year. While the story brings laughter, it was anything but at home. We were really good at putting on our happy faces back then – until one day I realized it is exhausting.

Leaving the tree up all year became a reminder for how I wanted to do life, where the opinions of others didn’t matter and being honest about life’s struggles was more important than weaving the perfect story.

An important lesson came by way of leaving a silly fake tree up for an entire calendar year.

And what I learned is that you stand to gain a lot more in life when you are authentic! Your relationships become more valued, your time more precious, and you celebrate the small moments a hell of a lot more. You learn to truly live.

This week, as we turn the calendar to December and begin the countdown to closing out this year, let’s all challenge ourselves to make the most of it. Holidays can sometimes bring expectation and anxiety, a reminder of family struggles or broken relationships. This week and throughout the next month, let’s all let go of those expectations and simply embrace everything that makes us unique.

As I said to our 5-year old this morning as she dressed herself in Elsa pajamas and a Santa hat for the walk to the bus stop, “you do you, darling and don’t you let anyone tell you otherwise!”

The same can be said for all of us. “You do you!”

Cheers to a new week and holiday music on repeat.

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