The Lights on the Tree

December 14, 2022

My son runs through the kitchen, tossing crumpled papers onto the counter. I shuffle through the math worksheets and drawings and find a letter from his music teacher about the upcoming Christmas program. In the letter, she outlines the outfits each grade level needs to wear for the performance. My kindergartener is supposed to wear dress clothes. But my second grader is expected to wear an all-green or all-red outfit—neither of which he has. 

Grabbing my phone, I add this to my growing list of holiday to-dos. In addition to our family to shop for, there are friends, two teachers, and the school bus driver. And I haven’t ordered our Christmas cards yet. The realization that December is right around the corner sends me spiraling with all I still have to do. Yet, despite the never-ending list of tasks, I feel a nagging to do more—to make sure I’m creating enough memories and traditions for my kids.

I glance at the calendar, knowing I won’t see a planned night to look at Christmas lights with hot chocolate as a family. We don’t do Elf on the Shelf. And we don’t have a special movie we watch while putting up the tree. We start a new Advent devotional each year but rarely finish it by Christmas. And every year, we leave a different kind of cookie out on Christmas Eve. Our kids are 8, 6, and 2; shouldn’t we have more traditions by now? 

The Sunday after Thanksgiving, my husband drags the fake tree up from the basement. The kids pull out the handmade and store-bought ornaments while I sit back, letting them fill the bottom half of the tree. They dig through the box, asking questions about each one. Once they hang the last ornament, I gently pull out the stockings my mom made. Holding mine up, I say, “This one is almost 38 years old! Can you believe that?” Their eyes widen, and we talk about how old their stockings are.

That evening, after everyone is asleep, I tiptoe into the quiet living room. One of the things I love about the tree is the quiet mornings and evenings when I can catch my breath from the holiday chaos in the warm glow of its lights. 

Out of a habit since childhood, I take off my glasses, watching the lights change in front of me. With my vision no longer corrected, the tiny lights become round balls. Their edges overlap, the glow taking over the whole tree. And with each step I take back from the tree, the lights become even blurrier.

In the coming weeks, we might see Santa, and we might make an impromptu drive to look at Christmas lights. There will likely be new holiday activities we try this year—things we may carry over to next Christmas. Or maybe we won’t.

Even though each year looks a little different, I know our family is making traditions—without me planning them or checking them off a list. 

Years from now, I imagine all the holiday memories strung together like the lights on a tree—glowing from the warmth of hundreds of lights melded together, not from one single bulb. 


This essay first appeared on this episode of The Mom Hour, “A Charcuterie of Holiday Emotions.”

Farming Motherhood Writing

Both Can Be True

“Dad, you’re never home!” My son, Rhett, cries, burying his face in his hands. Then he throws himself on the kitchen floor. “You’re never here at dinner, and I just want to be with you!” I glance out the kitchen window, the sky is…

November 9, 2022
marriage Motherhood

So God Made a Farm Mom

One day, God looked down at all the fields, barns, pastures, and farmers and knew He needed someone to take care of all the families on the land. He knew it had to be someone confident in herself to see that the farm doesn’t…

October 24, 2022
Motherhood Writing

Why I Rock My Toddler Before Bed

Because she still fits in the crook of my arm, tucked right beneath my chin. Because I love watching her rub her blankey on her cheek, blinking her eyes, as she relaxes into me. Because she asks me to. Because it’s the only time…

October 21, 2022

All the Kindergarten Feelings

“Let me quick take your picture,” I say, shuffling Nora up my hip while posing Allie on the bus steps. She smiles, her hands tucked nervously under her chin. My nose burns, but the tears don’t fall. My eyes catch the bus driver’s gaze—the…

September 14, 2022
Farming Writing

How to Save $5 on a Dozen Eggs

First, and this is key; you must declare, “I’ve always wanted chickens! Wouldn’t it be fun?” (Even if you just thought of it yesterday.) You imagine restoring the run-down coop in your farm yard and ask your husband, “Can you fix this coop for…

August 23, 2022

The Harvest Meals You Didn’t Ask For

The knife slices through the potato, the sharp edge hitting the cutting board with each chop. Thwack. Thwack. It’s not quite noon, but I want the mashed potatoes made now, so all I have to do at 4 o’clock is pop the pan into…

August 12, 2022
Farming Motherhood Writing

On Being a Farm Mom During Harvest

“She’s probably the last little one we’ll have at harvest,” my father-in-law said, looking at Nora in her car seat. She smiled at me, her cheeks covered in chocolate, leftover from dinner in the field. I could tell from a distance that her hands…

August 8, 2022
Friendship Motherhood Writing

Knives in the Drawer

The forks clank as I drop them into the drawer, still hot from the dishwasher. With each bang, I think back to the email that unexpectedly dropped into my inbox yesterday. I opened the email and leaned over my granite countertop, my chin resting…

July 1, 2022

Ten Ways to Stop Being a Writer

Open your computer to a blank Google Doc and then decide now is a good time to update all your photos. Google: What’s the best photo storage website to use? (But really. I need help with this. Amazon Photos is acting weird all of…

June 30, 2022