The charge: Ciara
With Christmas decorations, mom rules with an iron rod – and takes all the fun away
For as long as I can remember, we’ve called my mom “Mrs. Claus” because she’s really into the Christmas spirit. His mother was the same – it’s traditional. But the decorating process is never without tension.
One year, while arranging garlands, I accidentally broke a vintage glass ball that Mom had inherited from her family. She dropped to her knees and let out that loud, low moan. She shouted “You are careless!” to me and didn’t speak to me for two days.
Over the years we have lost a wise man, a baby Jesus and the Virgin Mary. All were shattered. Each time I tried to hide it from mom for as long as possible. When she finds out, all hell breaks loose. We are told that we do not take care of things, that we are selfish. But accidents happen.
Decorating our house is a huge process – it starts with going into the basement, where there are boxes and boxes of ornaments – and takes two days. Mom wants the tree up on December 1 and not taken down until the end of January. I think it should drop right after January 1, but my opinion doesn’t matter.
Everything must be done to mom’s taste. If I’m not very involved, she’ll accuse me of being indifferent, but when I take charge of something – say, the lights – she’ll control it. I’ll spend hours arranging them just for her to peek and say, “I don’t like this.” It’s exhausting.
None of us children live at home anymore, but when we return for Christmas we are expected to step in. I’m the eldest of three children, so it’s my job to liaise with my siblings and find time when we’re all free to decorate the house. My mom dictates the whole process from start to finish. If I don’t create a schedule that works for him, it’s, “Oh, you never help. You are so ungrateful. It’s not that; it’s just hard to get everyone together.
This year, I want mom to relax. It’s good to pull out all the stops with the house, but it’s better to take it slow. The process puts too much pressure on all of us. Christmas is family time, not flashing lights and figurines.
My kids should be grateful that I put in the effort to decorate the house and respect my feelings.
Every Christmas, I move the boxes out of the cellar and put up the decorations. After my hard work, Ciara will appear and say, “Oh, that’s lovely. Everything looks so Christmas. Can I help?” But most of the time it’s already done. For Ciara, the idea of decorating is much more exciting than the reality. She wants to come and put the last ball on the tree, but even then she will break it probably.
Many mothers are territorial on the tree. When Ciara was little, she brought home decorations she had made at school. I would say, “Yes, it’s adorable, darling”, then I would hide it behind my back. Now that my kids are older, I still love decorating the tree as a family, but when their backs are turned or they’re in bed, I move things around. I rearrange it to my liking. I like things to be symmetrical.
When Ciara smashed a trinket that was precious to me, she was like, “Oh, well.” But it had been in the family for years. I don’t think I reacted too badly – she exaggerates. But Ciara doesn’t realize the decorations have sentimental value.
The crib is in the spotlight with us: we place it in the entrance. I presented the numbers to be perfect, but Ciara always rearranges them. Things have disappeared over the years: the ox and the kings have mysteriously disappeared. It stresses me out because I put a lot of effort into making it look good.
When it comes time to take down the decorations, everyone is suddenly busy. While Ciara has been enjoying my arrangements all Christmas, she quickly disappears when it’s time to take them out. I have a neat process for packing them so that next year it will be easy to unpack them. But Ciara just wants to throw everything in the basement.
I put a lot of effort into making the house nice. It’s something my mother has always done and it’s been passed down. I want Ciara and her siblings to carry on the tradition but also to make sure they free themselves when I ask, and be more careful when handling decorations. Ciara is lucky that I still put so much effort into the house every Christmas – many families don’t care.
The Guardian Readers’ Jury
Should Aileen stop being a Christmas decoration bully?
Aileen should be free to decorate the house however she wants – that’s not really the point. The problem is the emotional blackmail and unreasonable demands she makes of her children. She has no right to expect them to join her decorating frenzy and must let them live their own lives.
Martin, 50 years old
Judging the actions of others based on rigid specifications is no fun for anyone. The family should start a new tradition. Give Aileen a day to set up non-negotiable festive displays, and a second for the family to add the finishing touches and enjoy the timeshare.
Shona, 41 years old
I have nothing but sympathy for Ciara and her siblings. Feeling obligated to carry on a tradition that is both time-consuming and stressful seems pretty awful. Aileen needs to relax and acknowledge how wonderful it is for the kids to even come home for Christmas! This is the important part.
Jude, 52 years old
I am on the side of the prosecution. Christmas balls are delicate and breakages are inevitable. Aileen also upsets her family when she rearranges the decorations, creating tension.
Christmas can be such a difficult time and it seems like Aileen considers herself the “tradition keeper”. That’s fine – as long as she owns it! If she wants to plant the tree and pack the items her own way, she can’t expect others to join the demanding diet. I’m with Ciara.
you are the judge
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We asked if Jay should try to overcome his seafood phobia, which annoys his girlfriend, Ines.
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