We have the dark house on our street. All our neighbours decorated on 3rd December, gold and white lights strung across the front of garages and the two tiny reindeer glowing gently from the lawn of the house on the corner, but we have nothing up. No lights out front, no wreath on the door, no tree, nothing to suggest festivities but the fairy lights that have been up since Halloween and the picture of Father Christmas on the cornflakes.
We’re not suffering from an Eberneezer-esque case of the Bah-Humbugs, and we are on the brink of out-decorating every single one of the neighbours, but until now we’ve held off. It was a certain someone’s birthday yesterday, and this year, as in the last couple of years, we let her decide whether she wanted the house to be decorated for her birthday or wait until after. She almost invariably chooses to wait, and in fact I’ve only decorated once on 1st December; I was pregnant with Elma and thought that maybe the promise of a Christmas tree might tempt the baby to make an appearance sooner rather than very very late. 12 days later, she arrived all of a hurry.
It’s not an unfamiliar concept to me; my sister’s birthday is 15th December and when I was little we never decorated until after her birthday; which usually meant waiting until the end of term and then decorating as soon as we got home. But when I was little it didn’t feel late; it felt like we were decorating at the same time as everyone else.
This year we’ve been asked if we’re worried about all the good trees having gone, and if I were to belive social media, we’re the very last people in the entire planet to have still not yet done any decorating. Work’s no consolation either; at 8.20 on 1st December we finished decorating the office Christmas tree. It’s not the official office one, but a little bundle of artificial glory which spends most of the year living in a bin bag on the bottom shelf of our library and cake shelves. Sitting on the carpet hanging pink and purple baubles up with paperclips has got to be one of the best ways to start the day.
I love Christmas. Love it with a capital L. Or perhaps I should say that I love Advent; for me it’s all about the getting ready; the things that we do each and every year to mark time as we head towards the 25th. When I first started working I would happily take the Christmas-New Year shift at work as long as I got to be home for the week before Christmas, for the carolling, the carol service and collecting the order of mince pies from the village post office, walking along the shoreline with Dad scavenging for driftwood, all the while belting out Good King Wencleslas, the magic in the light of the advent ring as each week went by, and the Christmas Eve party at Grannie’s house, which my sister and I took over in later years; she in charge of the catering, me the author, director and producer of our very own two-man panto.
Nowadays our family have their own traditions, the Christmas Eve crib service where everyone dresses up (John is threatening to go as Batman this year and the Vicar has promised she’ll work him into the story- it’s almost tempting!), heading out in the dawn to collect the turkey and then making my great-grandmother’s stuffing recipies and prepping veggies while Carols from Kings plays on the radio. And of course, dressing the house to within an inch of its life.
And so tomorrow, when we go to buy the tree and bring it home, and tie it to the wall with fishing wire so that Pip can’t pull it over, and get the boxes out of the cupboard and find the new decorations that we brought back from the Black Forest this summer, I’m going to be just as excited as the children. And yet I cannot regret letting Elma have her day; we still have plenty of time for Christmas (no matter what the media says), and yesterday our lounge was pink and pastel rainbows; the Happy Birthday banner I made for Kitty’s first birthday hung across the wall, and a pile of presents in fairy wrapping paper waiting underneath. She was in her element, all smiles from the minute she rushed into our room at 6am; “is it morning?! am I four?!”
And tomorrow we will decorate. But are we the only ones? Is there anyone else out there that doesn’t have a tree? are artificial trees letting people start decorating earlier? or is it just that 2016 has been such a humdinger of a year that we need all the help we can get?