Storyteller. Grace Dweller.

I’m Jennifer — wife of an Iowa farmer, mom to two girls, new book author. I believe in you, because I believe in Jesus. You matter to Him, and you matter to me. more »

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Tuesday 2nd December 2014

#TellHisStory: ‘Twas the First Days of December and All Through the House

Growing up, we didn’t shop for great deals in those days immediately following Thanksgiving. There was no risking of life-and-limb in a mad dash at WalMart. No, we had our own death-defying experience right in the comfort of our own home. It began right here, while balancing cardboard boxes, swollen with Christmas finery, down this narrow throat of stair:


This was what I looked forward to all year long: Christmas decorating day. Move over Clark Griswold. I was a tinsel ninja. My soundtrack? The Osmonds Christmas. On eight-track.

Mom could barely finish scraping off the Thanksgiving dinner dishes, before I was begging to decorate. I was on a Mission — a tinsel-hanging, elf-dangling, greenery-in-the-light-fixtures, swirly-twirly, multi-colored-lights-tacked-to-the-door-frame Mission.


Christmas decoration

Within 24 hours, our home would be transformed into a faux winter-wonderland. We’d deck the halls with boughs of kitschy-ness. We stacked our home with ceramic Jesuses, cottony snow pulled from plastic bags, knitted Christmas potholders and yards upon yards of garland.

“Hark!” The ceramic angels would sing, “Glory to the crocheted King!”

Our outlets performed electrical miracles — in which up to ten strings of lights could be inserted into a single plug-in. (Oh, Come, All Ye Fire Marshals?)

We had no fewer than 30 Santas in the house: a snoring Santa, a lifesize Santa stuffed with crumpled newspapers, a knee-high Santa with matching Mrs. Santa near the fireplace, painted Santas, sequined Santas, Santas with heads super-glued back in place, and more.

One year, I convinced my parents that we needed a second tree in the living room — not an evergreen tree, but a rugged old paint-splattered ladder from the shed, on which we could hang more ornaments, tinsel and glittery stars. Mom was, at first, skeptical, but she let me drag that old ladder in. It became a fixture year after year.

Christmas ladder

But my favorite moment came when I arranged the nativity on the built-in bookshelf in the foyer. I would climb over the banister, and crouch down on the top of that shelf — in another death-defying move — carefully arranging the characters. Jesus, of course, was the central figure. I fixed the others in such a way that they would gaze upon the ceramic child, while not blocking the view from actual humans, here below.

I knew, of course, that Jesus was more important than Santa, and thus put the jolly elf one shelf lower than the Bethlehem scene. And they all got along quite peaceably in our home — Santa and the Three Kings and Rudolph and Jesus — all right there amongst the fake greens and the comforting glow of multi-colored lights.


Funny, now that I think about it. … Funny, how all that kitschy, overwrought world of tinsel made me feel warm on the inside. It felt a bit magical, quite honestly, like I somehow had a part in making Christmas come alive, while hanging boughs of holly and nestling that tiny Jesus down in his wee trough.

And I suppose it’s how Jesus came to nestle down in my wee heart, too, right there in the most ordinary place, with Donny and Marie crooning and Mom frying bacon and Dad carrying another box full of greenery down the creaky staircase. I feel a bit like Mary, now that I think about it, treasuring up all these things — even the cheesy, tinsely things — and pondering them deep in my heart.


Your turn:

Tell me about a favorite decoration, or ornament, or a favorite Christmas CD. Are you a Clark Griswold, or more of a minimalist? Do you display a cheesy, must-have decoration?


So, what’s your Story?

A #TellHisStory is any story that connects your story into the story of God.

You’re invited to tell that story right here, in community with us.

Share your narratives, your poems, your Instagrams tagged with #TellHisStory, … your beautiful hearts. You are the chroniclers, the people who help others make sense of the world with your words and your art.

Story is how we know that, no matter what happens, we can get back up again.

Visit someone (or two) in the link-up to encourage with a comment. Then, Tweet about your posts, and the posts you visit, with the #TellHisStory hashtag. Come back on Friday to visit our Featured #TellHisStory, in the sidebar.

A final note: This is a safe place to tell your stories. You don’t have to be a professional writer to join us. Story is built into every single one of us. Your story matters, because it’s part of God’s story down through history, not because you punctuated everything correctly. Deal?


For more details on the #TellHisStory linkup, click here. Share the love of story by visiting someone else in the community!


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  • Anita

    I find that our Christmas tree went from my vision of a perfect tree (pre-children) to a lesson in compromise and traditions (post children). Now that the nest is empty, I’d LIKE to decorate it again in just sand dollars, with white lights and gold bows…but, I don’t think that’s going to happen! Of course, trees are outrageously expensive in Arizona (where we moved from the wilds of Montana where trees were free for the hunting) so I’m kicking around the idea of stacking a couple of tumbleweeds and calling it a tree….

    • Your idea to decorate with sand dollars and lights and bows sounds lovely. If you make a tumbleweed tree, I want to see it! 🙂

      • Anita

        Ok, now maybe I really will try it! Of course we’ve just had two days of rain and the desert is red swamp right now ;). Time to go puddle hopping!

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  • Isn’t it amazing the warmth which fills our hearts each year as we pull those boxes out!!! For me, I cannot wait to look at two Precious Moments ornaments my parents passed on to me from my childhood when I married & then had a tree of my own. Now yellowed & old looking, they still come alive with joy as memories flood my mind each time I hang them on our tree. Loved reading this post & seeing your “ladder tree”. Brought back to mind Jacob’s ladder & filled me anew with gratitude that heaven came down & touched our earth!

    • Thank you for stopping by and sharing your memories, Joanne. xo

  • Oh Jennifer! Seeing the picture of that little cheesy elf ornament made my day! We had so many things like that when I was growing up. My “must get out” decorations would be a collection of Christmas ornaments, about 40 or so, that my Mom has given me over 40 years, one each year, and a few back from the 70’s are pretty cheesy. Like the home-made felt angel with yarn hair, tinsel halo and blue SEQUIN eyes!!! 🙂

    • How special, Betsy. Thank you for sharing.

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  • I love the mismatched, hodgepodge ornaments from our pasts that don our tree. It it far from magazine ready but it reflects the imperfect people that live here and are in need of a perfect Savior.:)

    • Love it, Katie. We have one mismatched tree, and one matchy-matchy one. I’ll bet you can guess which ones the children like better!

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  • Lynn D. Morrissey

    Lovely, Jennifer. The best kind of cheesy! I remember as a child taking my little battered nativity set apart–dismantling the members from their little corners of the stable and ringing them all around my cereal bowl. There was something comforting about breakfasting with Jesus, Mary, Joseph, three kings and two angels. Likely, the donkey was there too and a little sheep, as I recall. We didn’t have tree tinsel (I’m not sure if my parents considered it messy or if they thought it was extravagant), but we had those bubbling colored glass Christmas lights–the kind you see in A Christmas story. They mesmerized me in their liquid loveliness. But decorate right after Thanksgiving? What a luxury. Daddy ususally waited till Christmas Eve, till nearly all the trees were sold and the tree lot was about to close. And then he nabbed a free tree–after all, by this time, they were trying to get rid of them. And my parents would likely be up till the wee hours of the morning decorating. Personally, I think I would have preferred stretching Christmas to its limits, and here at home, we put up our four trees (fake of course) before Thanksgiving, but there was also something magical about arising Christmas day and seeing a beautifully decorated tree all aglow radiating in front of the living-room window. thanks for this walk down memory lane. Glad you are home and that your trip was so special!

    • Thank you for taking me down your own Memory Lane. I love the image of Little Lynnie sitting with her breakfast and her Nativity friends. 🙂

  • Michelle Anderson

    Oh man what great memories you have! I love how you write Jen!

    • You are so sweet, Michelle. Thank you for your encouragement. I hope you’re having a meaningful Advent season.

  • I loved, really loved reading this post. You know what I especially loved? That your mom said “Yes” to the ladder. I would have said no and that makes me sad to realize that after reading this post. Thank you for sharing your mother’s “Yes” so I can reconsider my “No” from now on.

  • MsLorretty

    I will never forget sitting in my Grandparents parlor on the vinyl hassocks watching the Lawrence Welk Christmas Special. A silver tinsel tree turned slowly on top of the oversized television. “Bobby and Susie” would be dancing their hearts out to the big band sound combining with the low grind of the color wheel above tinting the tree green……then blue…..then…..rose….then orange. Grandma would be crocheting and inevitably fall asleep with hook and yarn in hand and if we were lucky, when she woke up she’d share from her stash of Nutter Butter cookies “hidden” in the bottom of the yarn basket. With a slow hiss and creak, the radiator would come to life and I felt so safe. So warm and loved. A memory feast almost as delicious as the roasted chicken and sticky mushroom rice we had for dinner.

    • Oh your memory-sharing brings back memories for me as well. I remember watching the Lawrence Welk Christmas special, too.

  • KristinHillTaylor

    I really love everything about Christmas and I especially love developing our own traditions with my family of four now that the kids are old enough to care. Thanks for giving us a peek into your past Christmases. That mom of yours was a wise one to say “yes” to your ladder tree. I hope I remember to say “yes” to my own kids. 🙂

    • I’m not sure she said yes, as much as she didn’t say no, when I went and grabbed that old ladder and dragged it through the house. She was a very good sport. 🙂

  • Karrilee Aggett

    Oh I love this… I love the look into how you have loved this season and how it unfolds even now! I love all of it… the decorating and the lights and the baking -ish… I have cut back on that, because I have a hard time cutting back on the eating of it too! 😉 I love the traditions, and my girlie? Oh my… she is a stickler for them! This is our first year without her living at home and it’s harder than I thought! I mean – she lives just down the street… but still! Your post reminded me of how when she was little, she used to steal baby Jesus from the Nativity and hide him… usually under her pillow. She thought it was HILARIOUS! This year, I didn’t even put up that Nativity and I hadn’t thought about why but I am guessing that may be it… of course, I will now pull it out and put it up and she will inevitably still hide baby Jesus when she comes over for a visit! Love you friend!

    • What a sweet story, about hiding the baby Jesus under her pillow. We often don’t put the baby Jesus into the manger scene until Christmas Day. Do you do the same?

      • Karrilee Aggett

        Well, we should have! That may have solved the ‘problem’ of the missing Jesus! 😉

  • Compared to many others, I’m definitely a minimalist. 🙂 I don’t really enjoy the decorating, but I do enjoy the decorations so I push through with at least a tree and a few other Christmas items. My favorite things are my Christmas carolers that I line up on my mantle and piano.

    • Simple is good. Like the words in Joy to the World, “Let every heart prepare Him room.” Sometimes we can’t prepare Him room, because we’ve added too much clutter!

  • Lynn D. Morrissey

    Jen, I’d meant to ask: What is that mysterious little staircase, next to the bigger one? Is it a curio-display case?

    • Yes, the little staircase is a curio-display.

  • Like you, I’m ready to bring Christmas in soon after the Thanksgiving dishes are clean, but I am a minimalist. The centerpiece of our Christmas is our large Nativity. I have a few candles and an advent wreath. I tape Christmas cards to the back of our door, but that’s about it. Simple is key for me. Thank you for giving us a place to share our stories, as always. Blessings to you and yours, Jennifer.

    • I think my Christmas shall be very simple this year. We just returned home from Haiti, and I don’t think I’ll be able to get the Christmas tree out until next week. And we’re all totally fine with that. I think that simple is good, Heather. That’s honoring the birth of Jesus, who didn’t come with blinking lights and a glossy ad on Black Friday. He came to the world, soft, and quiet, and into a barn. Thank you for sharing.

      • Simple and humble was good enough for our King. We need to be content with the same. May we all find joy in Him this Christmas regardless of our circumstances!

  • Nancy Ruegg

    I, too, love the decorations of the Christmas season, especially those that have been handed down by family or given to us over the years by friends. And then there are all the ornaments and other display items bestowed upon me by my elementary students, over my twenty-six year teaching career. Unwrapping each decoration is like greeting an old friend, and the memories attached to each one are precious indeed.

    My favorite ornament is quite shabby now; it’s eighty years old. When my dad was about ten, he was sent to the dime store with exactly that: ten cents. His mission was to purchase a new decoration for the tree. (Later he was told the trip was a way to get him out of the house so his older siblings could decorate without his intrusion.) What he chose was pale green and silver blown glass, in the shape of an old-fashioned lamp. Green has now faded to gray-green, and silver to creamy white. But that ornament has been hanging on our family tree since I can remember. Christmases past come rushing back as I lift that precious little lamp out of its box and hang it on our tree: a symbol of family-love, joy, and peace.

    • Oh, Nancy, I love your precious story about the 10-cent ornament. How special.

  • Jennifer,
    I love that you have so many wonderful memories from your childhood and that you had such a great trip to Haiti (saw via FB)…you were in my prayers 🙂

    Our daughter loves to decorate our tree the day after Thanksgiving while we play Christmas music…and we set out our Nativity, which my hubby and I bought from Bethlehem, which we visited before she was born.

    • Thank you for your prayers, Dolly. It’s been an adjustment, returning home.

  • This brought back so many memories. My mom never celebrated Christmas until she moved to the states (from Iran) and then as a single mom she did her very best to make it special for me. We had the littlest artificial Christmas tree, maybe all of 4-feet, and to make it taller we set it up on one of those small exercise trampolines covered with a sheet. The tree was always a little off-kilter and it bounced if you got to close…lol. But, I still remember it and the presents she worked so hard to put under it. Oh, sniff…tissue please. This year I’ll be seeing our giant 8-footer and all its glory in a brand new light…and calling my mom to say thank you. 🙂 Blessings to you, Jennifer.

    • What a sweet recollection, Tiffany. Thank you for sharing with us!

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  • Jillie

    Hi Jennifer! I’m a tad late to comment, but I’m gonna do it anyway. I LOVE this! What a lot of memories you have stirred in me. It’s funny, but the one memory that really stands out, is that my Dad would not allow us to hang the tinsel-y ‘icicles’ in bunches on the tree limbs. Nooo, we had to place them one-by-one on the tree, and hung just so, with the tip of the icicle clinging to the branch and the rest hanging long, “like REAL icicles”, he would say. My Dad was a perfectionist, need I mention? Today, I am free to NOT even use icicles if I so choose. I’ve become more of a minimalist in my advancing age, adopting the adage that “less is more.” Sorry, but I no longer go for tacky and kitschy. I loved your photos, though. Those elves??? They must be, like, 150 years old, right? And I definitely recognize the star for the treetop.
    Current fave C.D.’s? Michael Buble and Josh Groban. Those two could sing to me from the phone book and I’d be happy!

    • I still have a tacky and kitschy collection of ornaments, and my mom’s ceramic Christmas tree. And I still listen to the Osmond’s Christmas album, every year, without fail. 🙂

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  • pastordt

    Love this! And I have a crocheted Jesus, too. But it was done by a gifted artist and all 5 pieces of this particular nativity set are handmade. I have TONS of nativity sets and I set them everywhere. Sigh. I used to decorate for every holiday – now I’m down to Christmas, and I’ve cut my 20 bins down to about 12. 🙂

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These two used to argue, pull hair, wrestle, tattle, accuse the other of losing the Polly Pockets or Webkinz, swear they would never talk to each other again. EVER! I remember sitting them down so many times when they were little, reminding them that som… ift.tt/2ECpmkG pic.twitter.com/3QoSpmcCmY