I’m not sure when decorating for Christmas became a competitive sport, but I’m here for it, which is to say, I’m grateful for everyone who has the resources and vision to turn their homes and yards into twinkling wonderlands every December, albeit with the help of professionals.

At first, I worried a bit when holiday lighting installed by professionals became a thing. It seemed that this trend was creating a new class of haves and have-nots, the wealth gap on full display in brightly lit shrubs. But as more and more people have hired companies to do their decorating, I’ve grown to appreciate the egalitarian nature of these displays since they exist for all of us to enjoy. As Debby Boone would say, “you light up my life,” and I mean that sincerely. 

Also, it’s hard to be jealous of my neighbors’ perfectly decorated homes when I have something even better inside my house, nestled in a USPS Priority Mail envelope, waiting to be hung on our Christmas tree.

It is the pièce de résistance of Christmas decorating: a wrinkled, slightly stained, sort of torn and alarmingly flimsy homemade angel bearing the face of a 7-year-old boy.

That boy is my son, who is now a 30-year-old man who got married this year. 

The passage of time has conferred incalculable value on this ornament, which was scissored-and-glued together in the second grade by my son — likely with a lot of help from his teacher. Regrettably, I don’t remember the name of the teacher who was responsible for shepherding this family heirloom into being, which is the equivalent of not knowing who painted the “Mona Lisa.” If I did, I would write her a thank-you note every year for this gift, which is a material reminder that the humblest things can be the most precious of all.

This homemade ornament, made of foil, ribbon, tissue paper and a silver pipe cleaner, has more value than the finest Christopher Radko ornaments in our collection. For one thing, it won’t break like the expensive glass bulbs are wont to do when the cat inevitably tries to climb the tree.  

But it’s also valuable because, let’s be honest, it’s kind of ridiculous, and as such, traditions have risen around the ornament, such as the whistling of the Twentieth Century Fox trumpet fanfare when it is hung.

Such pleasure. Such fun. Such are the peculiar traditions that arise over time in any family that loves Christmas as much as mine does. 

The “Mencken Angel,” as it is known (my son is named after H.L. Mencken) even inspired a new generation of foil-and-tissue-paper angels, because there came a time when it seemed unfair that his siblings weren’t similarly represented on the Christmas tree, and so I made replicas featuring my other children’s faces at similar ages. They will never be the Mencken Angel — that is the homemade ornament for the ages — but each has its own homely glory. They are a fitting tribute, I think, to a Child put to bed in a manger.

Not every one, of course, will be a home run like the Mencken Angel was. There are more than a few stars made with glitter and Popsicle sticks that might get hung on the tree, or might not, depending on how big the tree is that year, and who happens to be there helping to decorate it.

But in a world where Christmas decorating is getting more sophisticated every year, where lights are hung by certified professionals and people pay $250 for a single Waterford ornament that the cat might break, for my money, the homemade ornament is the best Christmas decoration of all. 

This story appears in the December issue of Deseret Magazine. Learn more about how to subscribe.