I have glitter in my pants. This is how I know Christmas is nearly upon us.
It’s not glitter from the pants themselves, or indeed from any kind of genital adornment (my genitals are perfectly fabulous without Swarovski, thanks all the same). No, it’s general jazzle from my Christmas box.
Every year the baubles in it shed just a little more of their sparkle but I can never throw them away. My boys’ early artistic efforts in the Christmas decs department grow a little more bald with each festive outing but, to me at least, they are still perfect.
Today, the tree has gone up. It’s an artificial tree; something I never thought I’d have. I’ve always loved the real thing.
I love the smell of a real Christmas tree and its symbolism – the whole bringing-the-(Norwegian)-outside-into-the-house thing, the mid-winter, Pagan-ritual thing.
However, what I like less is the hunting down of a perfectly symmetrical, luxuriant tree under the impatient eye of a spouse thing, the squirming about every day trying to get close enough to the dish to water the bloody thing, the inevitable needle drop which plays havoc with the hoover, and the sitting-in-the-garden-til-July thing that follows the festive season.
In 2012 we took a holiday to Thailand, arriving back in the UK on Christmas Eve. To ensure Father Christmas had somewhere to offload the Playstation and other overpriced gadgety stuff, we bought an artificial tree that could survive the fortnight’s drought while we were away.
I’ll admit I was pretty impressed.
It looked recognisably like a Christmas tree in the first days following purchase (i.e. before it dries out and starts looking brittle and pale). Plus, I realised I burden the tree with so many felt Christmas dogs (what do you mean, there’s no such thing as a Christmas dog?), golden acorns, glass stars, copper wings and Russian soldiers (too sinister these days?) that you can barely see the plastic shrubbery anyway.
It was definitely worth the investment.
I think this every year that I don’t have to fork out £50 for the real thing.
It was always £100 in my case anyway, because I’d put one up during the first weekend in December and then have to buy another on Christmas eve because not watering it properly led to Patchy Pine. (If this isn’t an actual condition, it ought to be.)
Growing up, we eschewed the artificial tree. They were fit only for the elderly and the windows of independent newsagents.
But we didn’t have money to splash around. My parents would often tell of the perilous state of their accounts at this time of year. Down to their last ever £6 and no credit cards. (They eschewed Access and Diners cards as well as fake Christmas trees.)
So, every year, our Christmas ritual included the theft of a tree from the country park near where we lived.
My dad turned the robbery into a real adventure for the three of us (himself, me and my brother).
We’d take a walk in daylight through the council-owned land and pick out a likely looking tree. My dad would saw off the top six feet or so and we’d transport the tree to a discreet ditch on the route out of the park.
Later, once darkness had fallen, we’d return, in thick jackets and scarves with our hats pulled down so as to avoid detection, to retrieve it. Though quite which council workers we expected to meet roaming the five hundred acres at night, I’m not sure.
I don’t think my dad was ever aware of how great a thrill this illicit activity was for us. He’d grown up around petty criminality in the East End of London but my brother and I were being raised as middle class children on the edges of the M25.
We both had violins, for Christ’s sake.
It was parentally sanctioned pilfering and it was almost as good as Christmas itself. Was it actually criminal? If the tree grows back it’s hardly grand larceny, right?
So, when I look at my artificial, legitimately purchased Christmas tree, I can’t help thinking my own children have missed out on what could have been a unique family ritual: the arboreal council tax rebate.