Recently, I saw a TikTok by a woman complaining (in a joking-but-kinda-not kind of way) about how she wanted an “aesthetic” Christmas tree, but her husband had insisted on hanging his childhood ornaments, which she showed off with a soundtrack of extremely hilarious sad music. Here’s the thing, though: his ornaments were incredible. One looked like an octopus made of flesh-colored Play-Doh, which doesn’t even have anything to do with Christmas, but who cares? Here’s the thing: The best Christmas ornaments are absolutely terrible. Forget the tasteful silver balls and stunning dried orange garlands that look so good online. The worse Christmas ornaments look, the better. Christmas ornaments should be some combination of tacky, poorly made, ugly, and downright hilarious.
My parents, for instance, have an ornament I made as a school project in probably the third grade. Using a smaller-than-wallet-size school photo from what was not a cute year for me personally, I’ve been transformed into an angel via crinkled up paper and pipe cleaners. (Not sure why we were making something as overtly religious as a angel Christmas ornament at a public elementary school, but this was the Bible Belt in the 1990s.) It does not look particularly good. It looks like exactly what it is: an arts and crafts project by somebody who still isn’t particularly crafty. And it’s been repeatedly hung on a tree and then stuffed back in a box for almost 30 years. It’s not even especially cute by the vaulted standards of cute in the age of momfluencers.
It is also — not to toot my own horn, here — the absolute gold standard by which I judge Christmas ornaments.
Honestly, even the nice ornaments are best when they’re a little offbeat and, preferably, purchased at a steep discount on a whim. Last year, I discovered that the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s gift shop slashes prices on their Christmas stuff in January, and I bought a pair of chair ornaments, replicas of items from their world-class collection, for more than I’ll admit to paying but still much reduced in price. Does they make sense as an ornament? Not really, no. Do they match the rest of my stuff? Nope. Do I love them? Absolutely yes.
I also spend the year picking up whatever random handmade item catches my eye at thrift stores and antique malls, quirky things that are absolutely not “aesthetic” but still represent someone’s best efforts. Consequently my tree looks like a rummage sale table, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
But ornaments terribly made by kids hold a special place in my heart.
Two years ago, in a flurry of pandemic-induced enthusiasm at the urging of a TikTok I saw one time, I purchased a bunch of acrylic ornaments, ModPodge, and glitter at Michaels. The results online looked absolutely gorgeous, and so I sat my then-nearly-four-year-old kid down for some crafting. Do you know what this child did? She stuck googly eyes all over everything she made. I’m now the proud owner of several ornaments that look like something out of a nightmare, including a gingerbread man with a stomach covered in eyes; a Christmas tree with a giant eye instead of a star at the top; a Christmas tree COVERED in eyes; and, somehow the most unsettling, a gingerbread house with just one eye, approximately where the door should go.
While it was tempting, in the moment, to be disappointed that our beautiful craft project had resulted in something out of Stephen King’s nightmares, I shrugged and figured I’d be happy to have these creepy-ass ornaments in a decade. Two years later and I’m delighted. What could possibly be better than a Christmas tree covered in eyes, made by my kid in a period when I was absolutely at the end of my rope? 2020 sucked, but one thing I’ll carry with me is these ornaments, a reminder of the fact that once upon a time, when my kid was very small, I made the best of it. There’s nothing that can match that.
Even if it does make my tree slightly horrifying.
Kelly Faircloth is the executive editor at Scary Mommy, where she commissions freelance pieces; if you’ve got a story you’d like to share, pitch her here! She’d love to hear from you.
Previously, Kelly worked at Jezebel.com, where she was a senior editor and also wrote about royal gossip and romance novels, along with body image and history. She grew up in Georgia between a river and a railroad, and she has a lot of questions about the world-building in Paw Patrol.