Someone once told me that if you don’t have children yourself, you stay much closer to your own childhood. For me this certainly rings very true, especially at Christmas. For a week or so now I’ve been having little twinkles of memories about my childhood Christmases. These days I’m still all about the anticipation, much preferring the planning, decorating and wrapping to the actual holidays.
When I was little there was always such excitement about when we could put up the Christmas tree. I was brought up in a small village where heaps of cut trees were piled up outside the green grocers’ shop. It was simply a matter of picking out one to suit and reserving it with a tag with your name on it. When time permitted, the owner would pack a load of unruly trees (no netting in those days) into his van and distribute them around the neighbourhood. There was no rule to the timing of this delivery and you never knew quite when to expect your tree to be hurled unceremoniously into the front garden. I would always wonder how this poor undignified heap of branches would be able to take on so much magic.
The first stage was to protect it from the dog, which appeared entirely unfussy if a tree was growing or uprooted when it came to the business of territory marking. If it was in the garden, it was clearly meant for him. Much ‘shooing’ later, it was time to get the tree into the house. In those days I think trees must have been cut a long time before they were sold, as needle drop was enormous. The thing would leave a trail from the hallway through to its resting place in the living room – apart from the year my dad had the idea of bringing it in through a window, which removed almost every needle it had.
There was no thought for leaving roots on Christmas trees back in the 1970s, so the operation to get it to stand up was a major task in itself. A large bucket and many bricks later, it was in position and only needed around 2ft chopping off the top where my dad always misjudged the height of the tree in relation to the ceiling. Yes, we always competed with Trafalgar Square with the size of our tree!
Next came the ritual of making the fairy lights work. Carefully wound around old copies of the Christmas Radio Times the previous year, it was always a mystery why they never worked first time. Every bulb had to be tweaked and/or replaced before up to three sets were placed on the tree. This was apparently men’s work and I was never allowed to touch. I didn’t care, I was very happy to unpack all the baubles and reminisce over the sparkly wonders I’d forgotten. I don’t remember us ever buying any new decorations but the collection was huge and very special.
‘Operation Tree’ had typically taken some hours by this point and it was often time for my brother and I to go to bed once the fairy light stage was complete. The real magic occurred overnight because by morning something breathtaking had happened. A rush downstairs on a gloomy December morning would reveal the most beautiful, most twinkly, most marvellous tree ever. The elves had clearly been at work overnight! The only elf was actually my Mum, who must have worked into the small hours placing every last ornament and every swathe of tinsel to absolute perfection. I think many families enjoy handing over the decorating to the kids to do whatever they fancy but I never felt deprived or frustrated. My Mum always created the most magical Christmases a child could ever wish for – the tree was only the start. I’ll never be able to thank her enough for the memories she’s given me.
It’s never been practical to have a Christmas tree in my small flat. I did have a teeny one once but the poor thing could only handle tiny ornaments or it looked like I was being cruel to it. Instead I usually bring in bunches of evergreens and hang them up with generous lengths of red ribbon. Very Country Living!
My latest tree tradition is to create decorations for my friend Rosie and her little girl. I started last year with the two felt trinkets you can see above, made using wonderfully retro patterns from Alicia Paulson. I’ve just put the finishing stitches into the two decorations I’ll present this year. I will be meeting with Rosie next week, so I won’t reveal what I’ve made until then.