Why you should care

Because while Christmas at dad’s house is never quite the same, that doesn’t mean it has to be disappointing.

A couple of weeks ago, Saturday Night Live ran a short sketch called “Dad Christmas.” It was an entertaining, if ham-handed, depiction of a recently divorced father chain-smoking to Jimmy Buffett songs in Florida and doing the best he can to show his kids a good Christmas in the wake of “the divorce,” the punchline to the hapless holiday being: “The sad part is he really tried hard.”

Many of us divorced dads are doing a lot more than just trying hard. But, let’s face it: When it comes to the holidays, most of us are not going to be mining Good Housekeeping for cooking and decorating ideas. Still, you can’t rely on mom to carry the holy water when it comes to making the season festive for your kids. And if you want the time they spend at dad’s house (even if it is just a 700-square foot apartment) over the holidays to be at least passably festive, then you’re going to have to expend a little effort. So here are a few ideas for divorced fathers out there trying to pull off a successful “Dad Christmas” without breaking the bank or breaking a sweat.

1. An acceptable tree substitute

Divorce forces one to make an accounting of one’s life: what one has and wants, and what one doesn’t. When it comes to the holidays, I made the following accounting.

Things I don’t have: Christmas decorations, tree ornaments, a desire to pay money for a perennial plant that grows in the ground by the millions.

Things I have: lots and lots of books (most of them purchased but unread).

Having done this mental accounting, the answer to the dreaded question about “what to do about a Christmas tree?” soon became blindingly obvious to me: the Book Tree. With snow falling outside and Christmas carols playing, my 7-year-old and I made and decorated a Book Tree. We strung lights on it, hung tiny stockings filled with candy and topped it off with a star. It was like an Advent calendar, a Christmas tree and a small library rolled into one. My daughter loved it. I loved that it took 15 minutes. It would have taken 10 minutes had my 2-year-old not knocked over version 1.0. Another fantastic traditional tree substitute, pointed out to me by fellow dad Robert Graham of Hillsborough, North Carolina, is the highlighted white Birch Tree, which comes with a base and 48 lights.

The Christmas Book Tree

Closing the book on holiday decorating.
Source Sean Braswell

2. Decorating the door

This should be an easy one, I know. Just get a wreath. They have buckets full of cheap ones outside of Michaels for Christmas-sake. Something about wreaths — and poinsettias for that matter — has always rubbed me the wrong way: They’re just too common, too easy. Like Honda Accords or Yankee Candles. I briefly considered a large crucifix, which would also serve to ward away vampires (and maybe Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormon missionaries as well), but thought better of it. The winner (found on Pinterest): a pine cone “cluster wreath,” easily assembled from pine cones (free and lying on the ground) and ribbons (in my case, ones clipped from Amazon gift-wrapping bags).

3. Cooking

Three words: sugar cookies and sprinkles.

4. Holiday entertainment

One of the joys of Dad Christmas is the feeling of liberation that comes with not feeling obliged to surrender hours of your life to repeated viewings of such “timeless holiday classics” as It’s a Wonderful Life or The Nutcracker. Life is too short and cable television too predictable. Divorce creates room to start some new holiday cultural traditions, ones forged out of Die Hard, Clark Griswold and the technological staples of single dad-dom: Netflix, YouTube and Alexa. Along these lines, a couple of recommendations: check out The Christmas Chronicles (Netflix), starring Kurt Russell as a refreshingly irreverent Saint Nick, and ask Alexa to read The Night Before Christmas. And, as a bonus, be sure to ask Alexa if Santa Claus is real. Her evasive, partial answers finally come into their own!

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