15th Dec 2017
The trimming of the tree is one of the most fun parts of the Christmas period but sometimes artefacts of Christmas past hang around for far too long, Sophie White extolls the virtue of a ruthless decoration overhaul
The Christmas trees of my childhood were a source of conflict between myself and my mother – but then what hasn’t been? She had some very stringent ideas about what was an appropriate style of dress for a Christmas tree. It was a childhood straddlng the late eighties and early nineties so the first Christmas trees I remember were clad in a single shade, an unwavering devotion to white with not so much as a speck of colour allowed near it.
It was a very, very intensely 80s vibe, one you could perhaps imagine now presiding ironically over a hipster Christmas in Shoreditch. However, it being Ireland in 1989 there wasn’t much by way of irony kicking around and my mother loved the white tree with all of her sincere little heart. One could even argue that she loved the white tree more than her only child, as my pleadings every year to introduce a bit of colour were roundly ignored.
Other families had coloured lights and tinsel and Santas and reindeer. ALL I WANTED was a whiff of nafftastic tinsel, a cheeky red Santa, ANY colour at all would’ve sufficed. Tinsel was a particular obsession of my child mind, the very idea of which my mother found particularly repellent. “So naff,” she sniffed. And this from a woman who’d spent much of the previous decade in shoulder pads and pink pants suits. I suspect that I can date the exact start of my mother disliking everything I like from this initial battle over tinsel. Of course, she would argue that this was the first clue to what an oppositional daughter I would become – one who always made a point of going against her on everything from what subjects to take in the Leaving Cert to what to wear to my wedding (oh yes she has an opinion on everything).
In 1994 (yes, I remember the date), she went to America and discovered new inspiration for the tree, a kind of Norman Rockwell aesthetic that, while being not nearly tacky enough for my tastes, did at least allow some colour into the festive proceedings.
All this aesthetic austerity imposed on me during childhood meant that when I finally broke free and began to amass my own decorations, the style was decidedly decadent. Tinsel-mania abounded as did various homemade baubles, including a random addition in the form of a small but remarkably life-like felt penis – probably what would be called a ‘hero’ decoration now.
As the years passed the tree evolved reflecting the different life stages I was navigating. In one flat-share, we made a garland of Dutch Gold cans, the year after we got married The Husband and I repurposed many of the wedding decorations I’d made for our wedding party, the year we were trying to buy our first house and were completely broke, we made decorations out of wrapping small empty boxes I’d been collecting for months.
This year was the first year it dawned on me that I don’t have the Christmas tree of the grown-up that I claim to be. Every year since we moved into our house has been lean financially. Since the Dutch Gold garland, babies have been made, the mortgage has to be paid, the roof is leaking, the car insurance has gone up again and there is always work to do and more importantly, serious things to address but this year I realised I couldn’t wait any longer. It’s been a harder year than most- I planned my first funeral this year, I nursed a new baby with all the joy and terror that can bring. We’ve had job gymnastics to contend with, not to mention the disappointing second season of Dr Foster to come to terms with.
“I deserve a decoration overhaul,” I thought as I surveyed the wreckage that had apparently constituted ‘careful storage’ when we dismantled the tree last year. Okay, I’m sure the decision was in part inspired by the sheer exhaustion that set in as soon as I contemplated untangling the lights. I wanted to dropkick the whole lot into the bin.
Decision made, I sat down and began to think about what kind of Christmas decoration person I am at heart. Then I went to the shop and milled through a hundred quid on any old random thing I liked. Theme be damned. It felt amazing.
Now the tree is up, looking, if I’m honest, a little anaemic as we don’t really have the space for one of those big healthy, bushy trees, but clad in a whole new lewk, and I think it’s doing rather well. I highly recommend a decoration overhaul for anyone who is hitting the end-of-year lull after a difficult 12 months. We deserve it, we need some sparkle to remind us that even in the hard times a touch of tinsel can be just the tonic.
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