Our festive decorations are finally up. Due to a certain someone’s reluctance to embrace the Christmas spirit, we are the last in the street to deck our boughs with holly. However, the finished results look rather splendid.
As usual it’s been a real family collaboration. This is always a surprise because not everyone approaches this task in the same way.
Take the Nearly-Beloved. He is all in favour of a strict tree etiquette that neither I nor Grunting Teen adhere to. Given his way, our family Grinch would ban tinsel, keep baubles to the bare minimum and demand strict non-melting visa requirements of any chocolate snowman, robin or reindeer. Every year he tries to steer us towards his carefully packed selection of tasteful red and gold ornaments. But we know better and have already raided the cellar for the tried and trusted bag of family favourites.
‘Oh, where’s that glittery dinosaur I made in Y3?’ asks Grunting Teen, forgetting his adolescent cool and rummaging with childish glee through our cherished heirlooms. His father rolls his eyes and in a desperate attempt for elegance over nostalgia he tries to wrestle the sparkly stegosaurus out of his son’s hands, muttering ‘You’re not seven anymore and it’s not very Christmassy, is it?’
‘Daaaad,’ objects our six-footer, grabbing onto his treasure for dear life, ‘this always goes on the tree. It wouldn’t be Christmas without it!’
‘That’s right, dad,’ says a muffled voice. The Nearly Beloved springs back in shock, scanning the room for the spirit of Christmas past. But it’s only Darling Daughter, not a Dickensian ghost.
Tier-3 restrictions means she can’t be here in person of course – at least not until the day when the country will be given their long-awaited get-out-of-jail cards. But as a lover of all things festive and a seasoned decorator of a minimum of three trees each December, she’s determined not to miss out on her quota. So, she has logged on to join in the fun over Skype. I position the screen carefully so she can monitor her father and report any transgressions, such as his earlier shoe-shuffling of Elvis-Santa under the sofa.
As Grunting Teen and I randomly hang bells and angels on branches then haphazardly swamp the tree in multi-coloured spangle, Darling Daughter alerts us to covert operations.
‘Daaad,’ she warns, ‘stop taking off the decorations as soon as mum puts them on. What’s wrong with you?’
‘What’s wrong with your mother, you mean,’ he replies with yet another eye-roll. ‘What she’s doing makes no sense. The lights are all bunched up at the bottom. The tinsel is a complete disaster. And any normal person knows you should grade baubles with small at the top and large towards the base. It complements the shape of the tree that took me so long to trim into submission.’
Ignoring him, I place a huge papier-mache elf on the second highest branch and step back to marvel at the masterpiece. ‘Oh God,’ mutters the Nearly-Beloved, covering his eyes. ‘Not that abomination. I thought I’d consigned it to the bin last year.’
‘You did,’ I smile, ‘but I retrieved it just in time.’ With a lump rising in my throat, I try to explain. ‘I know it’s a bit tatty but I just love it. Don’t you remember the kids begging us to buy it?’
‘No,’ he replies, ‘what I do remember is refusing to buy it.’
‘Oh, that’s right,’ laughs Darling Daughter, ‘we persuaded mum to go back and get it. You can’t beat a good elf.’ And she oohs and aahs in happy recollection as I parade a chipped glass swan, threadbare owl and slightly unravelled silver stocking in front of the screen for her approval.
After the bag is finally emptied and Grunting Teen has lifted me up to place the star on the top, we stand back to admire our handiwork.
Darling Daughter signs off with an appreciative ‘I can’t wait until the 25th. It looks great.’
But the Nearly-Beloved sighs. ‘It looks like someone’s thrown up on it.’ Then he sighs some more as I stick shooting stars, sleighs and snowflakes onto the window panes and wind up the dancing turkey and laughing penguin.
Exhausted by all the effort, Grunting Teen retires to his PS4 whilst I head off to the kitchen to make a cuppa. On my return, the Nearly-Beloved springs to my aid, looking rather shifty. ‘Have you been messing with the tree?’ I ask, noting that the lights seem somehow more uniform and the tinsel straighter, whilst the swan and owl have migrated north and the elf is now hiding under the lower branches.
We eye each other up for a moment, then nod a silent truce as I retrieve Elvis-Santa and turn him on full blast.
As usual it’s been a real family collaboration.