THE CHRISTMAS TREES around here all went up early this year. When I say early, I was starting to see trees in people's windows - as well as on their social media - from the first day of November.
I'm assuming they're stylish fakes, because I can't imagine a real tree lasting all the way through to the big day. But after a year that most of us would rather forget, I understand why the prospect of mince pies, egg nog and fairy lights is even more tempting than usual.
But for the first time ever, we're not putting up a big tree. This has nothing to do with the environment (our tree lives in the attic from one end of the year to the next), or the fact that mentally, I'm probably stuck back in March, when the world as we know it, screeched to a halt.
The reason is entirely practical. The Boy is in his final year in school and his study area is in the bay window where our Christmas tree goes. I wonder about having the tree elsewhere. There isn't room in the kitchen, and nobody would see it in what we still refer to as the playroom, all these years later. My suggestion to put it up in the hall is met with a luke-warm reaction. Leave it with me, I say. I'll be creative.
Being creative about Christmas, I soon discover, implies you know what you're doing. That you have some sort of grand plan in mind. I had no plan at all. I rarely do. I just sort of make it up as I go along and hope for the best.
I do an internet search for alternative Christmas trees, but a lot of them are actual Christmas trees that are just decorated strangely. Or in some cases, beautifully. Just not how we decorate ours: with mis-matching sentimentalism. I look at tree-like creations with branches made entirely from LED lights, giant lego trees, and trees that have been completely knitted. It's an internet rabbit hole.
Then I remember how one of my friends from my book club fills a huge vase with long, elegantly-twisting branches every Christmas. It stands on the floor in a corner of her dining room, the branches strung with tiny white lights and dainty baubles. She's the kind of person who also has chunky white candles arranged in threes along a vast marble mantlepiece, and storm lanterns on her doorstep.
Right, I think: branches in a vase. Lights, baubles. How hard can that be? I take myself off to the shed. There's a pile of seasoned wood in the corner, which we'll burn during the winter. I find a few slimmer, longer pieces and hold them up. They're far too short. I throw them back and dig a bit deeper, jumping when I disturb a few MASSIVE garden spiders.
A few minutes later, heart still thumping from my encounter with the spiders, I have a decent armful of branches. Feeling smug beyond belief, I bring them into the house and examine them. Close up, in the light, they don't look remotely like the branches in my elegant friend's house. For a start, they're pretty dirty. I find some rubber gloves and start to wash them.
An hour later, I come back to where I've laid them out to dry. They're still damp: in fact, they haven't improved at all. I find the biggest vase we own and arrange them in it. Pushing the vase into a corner, I stand back and try to imagine the finished creation. It's no good. No amount of twinkling lights will transform these into a thing of Christmassy beauty. I take them all out of the vase and throw them in the fire basket, only to discover I have a splinter.
This will not get the better of me, I think, as I go shopping the following day. I will come up with something wonderful and arty. I will be so creative, that my family will never want to return to having a traditional tree in the corner of our living room. I worry briefly about the pressure of having to be ever more creative, year after year, but push it out of my mind. Right now, I only have to think about this Christmas.
I spot it while I'm waiting in the queue to pay for my groceries: the answer to my problems. It's a miniature tree in a pot. A real fir, complete with a tiny string of fairy lights, attached to a battery pack. With our own lights and a few favourite decorations, it will be perfect. I carry it home and put it sitting on a small, occasional table in our kitchen. I will decorate the pot and the table too, and on Christmas eve, Santa Claus can leave our gifts on the floor underneath.
The Middle One comes into the kitchen and starts to sneeze. A moment later, her eyes are red and watering. "Oh my God, is that a real tree?" She stares at me as if I've deliberately dropped her phone in the loo, or something. "You know I'm allergic to pollen and pine trees?"
Of course I know. It's the reason we have never bought a real tree at Christmas. But in my efforts to be creative, I have completely forgotten. When I bought the wonderful tiny tree that now sits on an equally tiny table, I simply forgot that it is still a tree.
She looks at it again. "How long has it been away from its mother?" she quips. I grin. "Does this mean you could get used to it in the house?"
"It's only for Christmas, right? We're not keeping it afterwards?"
I promise to have it outside, once Christmas is over.
And just like that, our tree is sorted. In the new year, I'll plant it out. And when I grow up, I'll be like my book club friend: effortlessly elegant. One of these Christmasses.
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Have a very happy, peaceful Christmas, and I'll be back here in 2021. Take care,