Family photos like this one of the author’s grandmother give extra meaning to this family’s holiday decorations. (Jennifer Bardsley)

Family photos like this one of the author’s grandmother give extra meaning to this family’s holiday decorations. (Jennifer Bardsley)

Memories linger like the scent of fake Christmas trees

On this family’s tree, the most important ornaments are framed photos of beloved family, especially the ones who have passed away.

“The way the attic smells reminds me of Christmas,” said my son as he helped bring a box of ornaments into the living room.

“That, and the garden shed,” I added. Our artificial Christmas tree smelled like the lawn mower. “I’ll turn up the air filter to high. Hopefully that makes the space smell better.”

“I’m just glad the lights work,” said my husband, as he adjusted the gold star on top. “We’ll get at least one more year out of this tree.”

Our fake flocked tree was ready for decoration. It had only been in the house a few minutes and Merlin, our poodle, already had flocking all over him. That, too, was a Christmas tradition. Once all the decorations were down from the attic and Merlin was napping on the couch, we got to work decorating.

The most important ornaments were a collection of framed photos I had purchased at Restoration Hardware 21 years ago. My husband and I lived away from our family at the time, and it gave me great comfort seeing friendly faces on our Christmas tree. To me, that was worth the expense, even though they were costly. The ornaments still give me comfort, especially the photos of family members who have passed away. I always put the frame with my grandpa’s picture at the very top of the tree, front and center, so I can see him all December.

“Who’s this?” my daughter asked, holding an ornament with a black and white picture of a small girl in a rocking chair.

“That’s my grandma,” I said. “The one you didn’t get to meet because she died before you were born. She loved Christmas more than anyone I knew.”

“Here’s Dad when he was little,” said my son holding up a picture of my husband.

“And here’s you,” I said. “When you were 2 and let me dress you in sweater vests.”

“I can’t believe you did that.” My teenager shook his head.

“Who’s this person and where should I put them?” My daughter showed me a picture of someone I haven’t seen in ages. I explained the story to her of why that person and I had drifted apart.

“Back of the tree,” she said.

“In Christmas-tree prison,” her brother added.

“Deciding who goes on the front of the tree and who goes to the back is one of the best part of decorating,” said my daughter. “Where do you think people put me on their trees?”

“Most people don’t have framed photos on their tree,” explained my husband.

“Too bad for them,” said my daughter.

After the frames came the craft projects from preschool and the souvenirs from various vacations. When we were all done the tree still smelled like the garden shed, but the attic odor was less noticeable. In three days it would hopefully be gone, or else we’d become the type of people who didn’t realize their house smelled.

Holidays come and go just like people come and go, but memories linger. That’s why having a fake tree in the corner of the living room isn’t stupid, despite my nose’s opinion to the contrary.

Jennifer Bardsley publishes books under her own name and the pseudonym Louise Cypress. Find her online on Instagram @jenniferbardsleyauthor, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as Jennifer Bardsley Author. Email her at

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