Blame it on my 12-year-old daughter, but Christmas in our household starts early in November, with a fake tree in her room. Further appearances are stalled until the beginning of December, when I relent and decorate the 8ft Nordmann Fir it takes two of us to drag through the front door.
Admittedly, untangling an unwieldy mass of 1,500 Christmas lights isn’t how I’d choose to spend any afternoon, let alone one almost a month before the Big Day. Yet, with every bauble my festive spirit gathers momentum. By last Sunday evening I’d hauled our final Christmas tree, another fake, into the corridor, arranged the decorative collection of Christmas gift boxes, and hung the wreath.
The watering required to keep our real tree remotely fresh for a month has, in the past, led to carpet leaks, and the dog has already chewed the ribbons on the gift boxes. By the time we dismantle the trees, the layer of dust underneath will be thicker than the extension cord perilously linking our electrical ensemble together.
But when the heavy lifting is done and the lights are on, I always smile. In a mad, unsettled world, going big and early is a fail-safe way of bringing joy into our lives. Dignity and decorum be damned.
I’ve never felt the same about Christmas trees since, in 2020, my dog knocked the whole thing over and smashed all of the baubles I’d been collecting over many years. I cried at the time, as all I was left with were some indestructible cheap wooden bits and bobs, a couple of cack-handed homemade relics from my children’s early years (sorry, kids) and tinsel that had seen better days.
So this year I am continuing a new tradition invented by my husband – the naked tree. He works outdoors and is of the firm opinion that flowers, plants and trees should be outside, firmly in the ground, not cut for our pleasure to die indoors. It’s been a 30-year battle to allow a tree in at all and he’s adamant that these days we showcase nature unadorned.
Luckily, we have high ceilings so the giant green object doesn’t dominate the entire room. I prefer to think of it as a little Narnia-esque – a slightly brooding presence that suggests mystery, majesty and the wild world beyond our suburban window.
As the materfamilias, I enjoy enforcing rules in our house, one of which is that nothing related to Christmas must brighten our doorstep before December 1. After that point, nothing unrelated to Christmas must be mentioned. So I consider it a mark of restraint that we waited until December 3 to put up our tree this year.
Going early does mean we run the risk of the tree (and I) having shrivelled to a husk by Christmas Eve. Meanwhile, the tree has been earning its place, squashed in the corner of our sitting room, where it tilts to one side like a drunken uncle trying to stay upright. And amid the doom and gloom this year, I decided to splash out by buying new batteries for the lights and – who knew? – they look much better now that they actually shine.
Of course, I have to accept that my son, eight, and daughter, six, annually ruin the aesthetic by hanging their own handmade decorations on its branches. But they don’t yet seem to have noticed that I’ve moved them to less prominent positions, in an effort to stop the tree resembling everything else in our house: messy and covered in grubby fingerprints.
By the time you read this, our tree will be, as Pink Floyd sang, “shorter of breath and one day closer to death”. But it will have brought us another day of (Duracell-powered) light in dark times.