What a Christmas Tree Skirt Taught Me About Questioning Tradition

Shortly after Thanksgiving, ideally that weekend, I like to have Christmas ready to go. HandyBoy (my husband) and I get the lights on the house, especially if the weather is more than 50 degrees here in Boston, since we can’t count on another one of those coming on a weekend. I finish my handmade holiday cards so they can get in the mail right after the weekend. And the Christmas Tree goes up. Last year, we did a real tree, but for a few reasons, we decided to go back to our tried-and-true artificial tree this year, which is still lovely. Decorating the tree is a ritual of sequence for me, including some decorations I’ve owned over 30 years, where the tradition of what goes on when and where really matters to me. This year, however, HandyBoy got involved in setting up the tree and my world was permanently rocked. 

dove on christmas tree

I’ve had these dozen or so porcelain doves and the beaded garland since winning the “Manager’s Tree” at the 1987 Sears employee party. These are the first items on my tree.

You see, he usually kind of leaves me to it. He gets me set by bringing the tree and the decoration bins up from the basement but gets out of my way while I put it all together. I don’t mind; in fact, I kind of prefer being able to have my tree “just so”, and he doesn’t seem to mind letting me have my vision on this. This year, for some reason, he was more motivated to get the tree up a bit earlier than I might have and motivated enough to start doing the assembly. He opened up the tree bag and took out the various pieces as I let him know what the order should be. He put the base together and in the spot it goes, and then, he grabbed the Christmas tree skirt and put it on top of the base before moving on to inserting the tree pole. 

I was aghast! I screamed quietly inside my own brain,


But before I opened my mouth, I miraculously stopped myself, for a few reasons. 

First, I knew I was fortunate to have his help. It is super awesome that he is engaged and being helpful here, and I didn’t have to ask or negotiate to have his help with this. I mean, if this isn’t the purpose of decorating our home for the holidays so that we can both enjoy it, what is? 

Second, I mean… hmm… maybe putting on the skirt now isn’t such a terrible idea. I don’t have to get on the ground and navigate carefully around and under the tree, and it isn’t preventing anything else from happening with the decorating. It’s actually kind of efficient. And, well, aren’t I all about finding opportunities to question assumptions in systems and find alternatives that are better and more efficient?

The part that felt wounded was the tradition of it all… the “finishing touch” that laying the tree skirt seemed to represent in my brain. But inside my brain is the only place it lived and didn’t really live there for a reason. I’d just learned it that way, and I continued it, without question. Even though it clearly is the HARDER option. Because it is Christmas, it’s “Tradition,” so somehow, the choice seems more sacred. But is it any more sacred than other things that happen every day in our homes? 


decorated christmas tree

A finished and beautiful Christmas Tree. Who can even tell if the tree was placed first or last?


I think about that when I work with my clients, and I ask them about their systems and how things have come about in their homes. Systems evolve from things like “I guess we just started that way when we moved in and never thought about it again” or “well, it made sense when the kids were young, but I guess they’re older now.” I provide a new set of eyes ad a voice to help people rethink their surroundings and how they spend their time there, to help them solve the problems they most want to be solved. And yes, often, there’s a big head-scratcher of a moment where you just can’t seem to come up with a good answer of why you shouldn’t make a change. It just never occurred to you that change was an option. 

That’s my tree-skirt-moment: It never occurred to me there was another way, so it never occurred to me to try and find one. 

And now, I can’t imagine I’ll ever do it any other way again. I’m a Tree-Skirt-First convert! Thanks and Merry Christmas, HandyBoy!


PS – Are you ready for what comes AFTER the holidays? Reclaiming our home and our sanity with the 7th Annual Clever Girl Organizing Challenge! Sign up by January 5th for the 2020 Challenge!




  1. Janet Barclay

    Oh Kathy, I can totally relate to your reaction. It took me a long time to realize that the way I’ve always done something isn’t the only, or even the best, way of doing it.

  2. Sabrina Quairoli

    I never thought about putting the skirt on first until I got an artificial tree. We would always get real trees until recently with the infestation of Spotted Lantern Flies in our region. You see, they add their eggs to the bark of these trees.

    Now, I never thought of putting the skirt last or first. I usually put it down when it comes out of the box. My boxes are organized but I have a bin for linens and usually the skirt is in that bin. So, when I get to the linen box, I add the skirt. I don’t have to worry about the falling pine needles so I put it down whenever I get to it.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

  3. Seana Turner

    I think I would have had the same reaction that you did. I always put the tree skirt on last, since I usually create a bit of a “pine needle shower” while decorating. But the lesson is such a good one. When someone expresses interest and contributes, it is very deflating and hurtful to attack them. Ultimately we grow and stretch more if we are open to different approaches. And timing is everything. Even if we do prefer our original approach, that is just something we can express next year!

  4. Linda Samuels

    I love how you let that conversation happen in your brain. You let a new “tradition” emerge while also transforming a potentially “oh-no” moment into one of gratitude and expansion.

    We don’t have celebrate Christmas, so I don’t have experience with the specific process of how things get set-up. But I do understand about tradition and doing things a certain way because that’s how we’ve always done them. Recently, I’ve been experimenting with that idea in relation to habits and choices, testing my boundaries to try something different that what I normally do. It’s a great way for me to expand my thinking instead of doing what I always do.


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