Deck the Halls

E explores the traditions and stories behind our favourite Christmas decorations.

We bought our “real” Christmas tree yesterday, and I spent a couple of very enjoyable hours decorating it. This got me to thinking about the traditions, habits and even, perhaps, rituals we have at this time of year. The whole of the Advent, Yuletide, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year period is replete with heritage and lore, whether you practise an organised religion or not. I’m going to leave the commentary on the BIG events and symbolism of this time of year to much more accomplished writers and finer minds than mine; I want to share with you the finer points of tradition of my Christmas decorations. That’s right, you can always rely on me to get us down to the level of prosaic by then end of the first paragraph!

Red and gold details

Growing up we always had an artificial tree as I had dreadful hayfever as a child, which included reacting snottily to spruce. Our Christmas tree was beautiful, full of twinkling fairy lights, pretty baubles and swathes of tinsel. Tinsel was also draped across the top of all picture frames in the lounge and dining room, and the reams of Christmas cards we received straddled a string tethered to either end of the curtain pole above the lounge’s large window, with the overflow being taped to the back of room doors. A shelf in a small alcove, which for 11 months of the year was filled with knick-knacks, small ornaments and, as I recall, some pieces of Welsh slate, was transformed each Advent into a pretty Nativity tableau. In my evening FaceTime calls with Mum this week, I’ve been thrilled to see a couple of pictures on the wall above her right shoulder sporting their golden tinsel flounces.

The boys are back in town: decades old nesting Santa Claus on the window sill in the office

Mum and Dad always seemed to treasure the (frankly slapdash) Christmas decorations my brother, Ed, and I made at primary school: poorly painted stars, skew-whiff mangers and wonky pipe-cleaner angels. All these works of art were given pride of place in our home. Perhaps this accounts for the moment of sadness I felt a couple of years ago when Joseph came unstuck from the Müller Corner Nativity Lily had created at nursery, 25 years earlier, and which had been proudly included in our Christmas display every year since. We still have lots of decorations that hark back to days gone by: a set of flashing fairy lights where, for the past 15 years, only half of the fairies have flashed but, with great reverence, they are fastened to my dressing room window to demi-twinkle until Epiphany. Why? Because they came via my (late, beloved) Dad. There’s a portly Father Christmas on an elasticated string, who was once gaudily resplendent in his natty velour suit although he is now a little dusty. When you pulled down on his string, he bellowed: “BOING! Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas” and this used to frighten the bejesus out of toddler Lily. It is many years since this Santa has boinged, but get rid of him? How could I even think of it? There’s an Advent Christmas tree purchased for Lily by my Mum and Dad. It has 24 little drawers in its base, each drawer containing a tiny ornament to be hung on the tree. It’s also clockwork and rotates to a trebly rendition of We Wish You a Merry Christmas. I adore this little tree and gently dust it each Advent as it comes out of its storage box. I don’t mind that it now has a Pisa-esque lean or that some of its branches are balding; I figure these things happen to us all with time and we don’t deserve any less love because of them. This year, my Advent tree (its ownership transferred to me when Lily went to uni – them’s the rules) has pride of place on one of the bookcases.

The infamous “boing”-less Father Christmas

Although I love my children dearly, there is a rite of passage as a parent in respect of Christmas decorations. It can be summarised as the moment that you judge your kids are sufficiently well-grown that their school-days’ art works can be relegated to support act, and you can splash out on some decent decs for yourself. The moment this occurs in any household will vary hugely. I’ve heard from some friends who reached this milestone when the child moved from primary to secondary school, and for one, when the kid moved up from infants to juniors. In our family, I reflect that there must have been quite a bit of attachment parenting going on regarding the Christmas decorations and schism was only achieved when the younger sibling left Sixth Form.

Various baubles that L has collected from her performances over the years

Today, thanks to advances in medicine – cheers Clarityn – me and Steve enjoy a real tree in the lounge, bedecked with elegant baubles and dainty lights. On the first floor landing there’s an artificial trees, toting flashing multi-coloured lights and groaning under the weight of all manner of gaudy, mismatched, but well-loved and utterly treasured festive paraphernalia. It’s taken the best part of three decades to get reach this balance, but I think we’re just about there. ~ E

The support act Christmas Tree, on the upstairs landing, in all its gaudy gorgeousness

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