I blame the perfect people of Facebook and their perfect trees and decorations. I mean, once upon a time, when there was no such thing as social media, we didn’t know what anyone’s house looked like at Christmas unless we visited them. Although, I suppose, to be fair, there have always been those treacly Christmas movies, with their perfect trees and perfect families. But these days it’s pushed into your face even more and we know what everyone’s Christmas tree looks like. And they are all gorgeous, and evenly balanced, with matching decorations and a colour theme. The lights hang perfectly, looking like they are a part of the tree, not some extra tangled mishap that’s been thrown on in some haphazard manner.
My tree looks like…well, it never looks like the picture I have in my head. This current one looked awesome in the shop (my 9-year-old chose it) but when I got it home, I realised the trunk was too short and stubby at the bottom and would result in the heavy tree falling over in the pot. (Been there, done that.) That’s okay, I cheered, while my cynical, Christmas-hating husband looked on, I just have to lop some branches off the bottom! He left me to it, and once I’d trimmed it, I found the giant pot that sits by the back door waiting to come in every year and started to dig the weeds out of the dirt. I released a few worms and checked there were no slugs or snails on the bottom, and then I lugged it in through the back door and positioned it proudly on the carefully laid out Christmas wrapping paper.(Every year I promise myself a proper tree skirt AND a little wooden train going around…) All good so far! I was feeling all excited and festive. I wanted to get it up with the lights on before my son got back from school, so he could do the rest of the decorations. I dragged in the tree and husband dutifully held it in place while I shoveled dirt back around it.
And inevitably it leaned a bit, so I fiddled some more, added more dirt and some bricks for good measure, and said aloud to my husband; every single year I say I am going to buy a tree stand and every year I don’t and use this same old annoying pot. Then my poorly 12 year old looks up from the sofa and claims; ‘the problem is, it is not a very neat tree.’
No. Well, real trees are not ‘neat’ are they? That’s what we love about them! They’re bushy and fragrant and real! They come in all shapes and sizes and that’s what we like! It’s interesting!
Refusing to be beaten by cynics, I set about sorting the lights. Two sets worked but had become so entangled I swear to God they have actually fused together and become one. I gave up on them before I got too angry. Another set didn’t work. I plugged in a brand new set I purchased from eBay last January (yes, January!!) when I was searching online for lights that looked really traditional. I found these beautiful lights from America, with ceramic bulbs! It wasn’t until they arrived that I realised our plugs are different. Not to be deterred I purchased what I believed to be the correct adaptor, but when I plugged it in, the whole thing blew up.
Well, I’m sure I’ll definitely get around to fixing that one day and won’t have wasted any money whatsoever.
But for now, luckily, I had purchased another set of star shaped lights this morning at a bargain price, plus they are battery operated! Yay me. I put them on and they looked fantastic. But they also looked sort of out of place among the other smaller lights. Never mind maybe I will grab another pack next time I’m there?
On with the rest of the lights. One twinkly multicoloured pack also battery operated and work! One ancient pack, they work, but only some come on, but oh well, stick it on anyway. How the hell do other people wrap lights around trees? I look forward to doing it and then start hating it right away. There is never a branch where you need one to be! You can see way too much wire. I end up with bare areas no matter how hard I try to distribute them evenly. I thought I liked it until my daughter told me to look at it from where she was sat. Where it looked crap.
Disheartened I turned them all off and decided to forget about it for now. In my head I was thinking, isn’t this the same thing that happens year after year? It’s like Groundhog Christmas for me. Every year I do the same thing. I promise myself next year I will get the best tree ever. I will buy more lights, because more lights is surely the answer and I never seem to have enough lights or remember how many lights will not work or be tangled together never to be parted again. And I think about all the lovely trees I have seen in shops, on TV and on Facebook, and I long for the same look, the same feel, and I make plans to achieve it.
And yes I actually do make plans. I have a little Christmas notebook I write in all year, adding presents when I buy them so I can tick them off. Last year I decided I wanted this year to be much more traditional and home made in look and feel, hence the sought out bulb shaped lights. It was going to be home-made this and home-made that, old fashioned and cosy. With paper chains and paper snowflakes and even home-made crackers on the list.
Why do I already feel like that picture is slipping away from me?
Because my tree looks shit.
And money has done that thing it does so magnificently at this time of year. You know, vanishing, drying up, running out, backing off, hiding. It does then suddenly start to get stressful, and I feel angry with myself again because last year I promised myself as usual that this year would be different. I would buy more throughout the year and would avoid a last minute financial meltdown.
Why am I always searching for the perfect Christmas?
I suppose they sell it to us, don’t they? In movies, and in adverts, (God don’t even get me started on those bloody adverts), and in shops and catalogues. And I’ve saved about a million different recipes about how to cook the perfect dinner because of course I will do it this year, because after last year I promised myself I would! (When serving Christmas dinner I lose the ability to count, often forgetting to serve one person, or like last year, dishing up an entire plate for an extra person who did not exist.)
When I look back on all the Christmassses of the past and I try to work out what made them great, or okay, or even terrible, it’s strange what actually comes up. I can remember some awesome Christmassses. When I was about seven or eight and it felt like the presents under the tree were a mountain. I got a Charmkins house and My Little Pony stable, and a great big rag doll. I’ve seen the photos. We were all very, very happy. When I was ten I got a flufy tiger and sat on the landing after we’d been sent to bed, listening to the adults still talking and laughing, and feeling sad that Christmas was over. I remember sitting by the tree and staring at the lights, feeling dazzled by them, like I might cry. The best things were stuff we weren’t normally allowed like fizzy drinks and sweets and chocolates, and everyone watching TV together, and passing them around and having extra people in the house like grandparents and funny uncles.
I can only really remember two really sad Christmases. They were both terrible and heartbreaking for very different reasons. The kind of things you think at the time will mean you will never enjoy Christmas again.
But you do. Our first Christmas as a family was one of the best ever. Our first daughter was only 4 months old and everything was just so exciting. Another one I remember as being above and beyond was our first in this house, after a terrible year of things going wrong, we were finally settled and secure, and the kids all had bean bags and we had this dopey foster puppy with us, and I can just remember us all sprawled out, or cuddled up.
Last year was pretty damn good from start to finish, yet as normal, there I went again afterwards, scribbling in my book, trying to plan it better for this year, trying to achieve that elusive stage of perfection I seem to see all over my Facebook feed and on TV.
But maybe it’s good to stop and think and try to remember the ones that counted. Why they were sad, or why they were amazing, had nothing to do with trees, or lights, or crackers or food. It was only ever to do with the people you love.
So, in tribute to this and to them, my loved ones, my family, I will endeavour from this moment on to forget about the lop sided, leaning tree with its mismatched only half working lights, and forget about the plans to collect holly and ivy and spray fir cones and make centre pieces, and name plates, and I will forget about how beautiful other people’s trees and houses look compared to mine, and I will just relax. Love my shit tree and everything else that will inevitably go wrong at this strange time of year. I will accept my shit tree and concentrate on the people, knowing that in their little eyes, every Christmas tree is amazing and beautiful, and every wrapped present exciting, and that just being together is all any of us ever really want.
And when it is all over, I will try really really hard not to think about how much better it could have been, if only…