Make decorating a family activity, and rediscover the wonder of the holidays.


When it comes to decorating at Christmas, I thought I knew everything. It's always been one of my favorite seasons--filled with a host of meaningful symbols and picture-perfect presentations. From the tree to the mantel to the staircase to the kitchen, there was always a distinct theme in our home. But since we became parents, my husband, Herschell, and I chose to welcome two extra pairs of hands and active imaginations at every stage in the decorating process. With insight and input from our children, we experience the season on their terms--and it means so much more.

Although Christmas is a family affair, at the Hamilton residence, Jillian, age 8, and Neal, age 3, take pride of ownership in the holiday. Instead of striving for perfection or giving instructions about what should not be touched, we incorporate their precious ornament creations, colorful gift wrapping ideas, eclectic toys, and special plants beside our traditional Christmas and Kwanzaa decorations.

Herschell and I are counted on for a few key things. We lead the Advent calendar reflections; pass down family stories; hang garland in the highest places; and keep on hand a bountiful supply of ornaments, strings of lights, generous quantities of paper, and a cache of ribbons.

Jillian and Neal assist us in making sure Santa's properly informed, hanging everything within their reach, mailing packages to out-of-town loved ones, and stocking the pantry with sweet ingredients for our favorite treats.

With their expertise, the holiday look in our home is more about rhythm than an actual theme. It truly reflects a living current of spontaneous energy, excitement, personality, and quite a few fresh opinions--the best kind.

I can't imagine my children not being involved. Their excitement can hardly be contained as awkward fingers juggle too-fragile ornaments from the box to the tree and tiny feet in tip-toe position reach for that ideal placement.

I see their personalities in our growing collection of unique ornaments fashioned at school and home. Nothing comes close to the beauty of custom-made balls, bright fabric, and wooden craft sticks glued, glittered, or dressed up to mimic snowflakes, angels, and reindeer. I am in awe of the pleasure they take in creating a festive atmosphere.

Wrapping our home with such love provides us cherished memories for years to come. In the meantime, it's already started--two smiling faces have been spotted making plans of merry holiday magic for this season.

"Preserving the Past" is from the December 2002 issue of Southern Living.