The Christmas tree goes up on Christmas eve. That’s how it has always been in my life. On Christmas eve, the obligatory excavation of the (almost-as-old-as-I-am) plastic tree from the cellar begins and the inevitable argument over who gets the best tinsel and whether it’s an angel year or a star year and how many baubles should go on the tree and which particular alignment all begin. My childhood was permeated with the certain knowledge that the tree goes up on Christmas eve, and comes down on Twelfth Night, and anything else is excessive and possibly even tacky.
Except that about five years ago Christmas stopped looking like that anyway, because my family reconsituted. Various different things have happened since, depending where I’ve been. One year I was horrified that there was a muttering about not even having a tree at my dad’s house, and I insisted on its presence for the sake of my Norwegian friend Jens, who needed to experience a Proper British Christmas (which apparently requires an appallingly large quantity of food).
Another year we really didn’t have a tree at my mum’s house, because we had kittens instead and they had a tendency to eat anything vaguely feathery, like birds or ferns or strands of tinsel or even branches of plastic trees. I reluctantly conceded that one.
A few years ago I went off to Norway to discover what Christmas is like when celebrated in a country which is colder than a chest freezer (the answer is – wonderful, because such countries have underfloor heating). Christmas felt very different, but also very familiar. I was surrounded by family, albeit not my family, and traditions, albeit not my traditions.
This year for the first time I will be celebrating Christmas without any parents present, mine or anyone else’s. I decided that it was about time to host my own Christmas; Jens is coming over from Norway again and although my attempts to persuade my brother down south failed due to his boringly adult job commitments, Charles will probably join us on Christmas eve for that most Christmassy of activities, spending all day queueing to get into Kings College Chapel for the Nine Lessons and Carols service.
Christmas goes on an awfully long time in Cambridge. It starts about two weeks before term ends, which this year meant the middle of November, and peaks with a flurry of carol services and concerts all over London and Cambridgeshire as soon as the last lecture hall closes its doors. Thanks to this year’s term dates we managed to hold both of our carol services before Advent had actually begun, which was odd. Then everyone went home and I sat in Cambridge for another week feeling rather seasonally muddled.
It does now feel festive, however, because yesterday my friend Amelia arrived to spend the night in order to go to Kate Rusby’s Christmas carol celebration. I met her at the train station in the early afternoon and we went on a mammoth shopping trip. The resultant booty included a staggering quantity of fudge, a variety of gifts large and small for the bulk of both of our recipient lists, and in my case a tiny artificial Christmas tree and accompanying tiny decorations.
We will take a mild interlude here while I tell you about the things I did not buy. You must believe me when I say that resisting the lure of the life-size £400 model polar bear (posed in a manner which suggested constipation) was only slightly easier than resisting the extremely festive half-eaten-orange-with-bluebird statuette, an essential item for every Christmas scene. I was disappointed when my brother rejected all my gift suggestions: a chopping board shaped like a small dog, a Homer Simpson oneside, a collection of decorative macaroons, and an array of similar delights. The fact that I really am no longer a teenager was firmly brought home when I walked into New Look and was horrified by how hideous all the jewellery is, but I don’t think you need to be boringly adult to recognise that there is something wrong with a world in which a jumpsuit patterned with skull-shaped American flags is considered retailable.
Anyway. So this year the tree went up on December 9th. I just couldn’t resist the adorable and faintly hilarious kitchness of a tiny tree. The upside of such a radical break with tradition is that my desk is no longer buried under a sea of papers and books. It is now home to a precariously-balanced stack of papers and books, and a tiny Christmas tree covered in tiny baubles – which, by the way, came without string attached and I frankly consider such an omission to be tantamount to abuse because there is nothing more frustrating than trying to thread brown cotton through the loop on a tiny bauble when your hands are quivering with excitement and mounting irrtation.
I also bought a star made of rainbow-coloured bells, which is hung on my wardrobe doorhandle and makes a pleasant jingling noise whenever I put my coat away – or indeed, get my coat out. I am considering the possibility of stringing tinsel across the walls since I couldn’t find any Christmas lights which weren’t either ludicrously short (30cm is not enough lights to wrap even the smallest of trees sufficiently) or ludicrously long (who needs 5ft of multicoloured bulbs anyway?).
I still have a fair amount of Christmas shopping to do, but I’ve made a dent in the list and most importantly found gifts for the remaining secret santa presents and obligatory gifts for the children I tutor, who are about to move back to Korea and actually are nice kids so I don’t begrudge them a small farewell Christmas present. The rest of the presents are a bit less urgent, although it occurs to me that I do need to get a move on with presents for my mum and stepdad, since I’m going to see them on Thursday… Hm. Perhaps I’m not as organised as I thought.