The Christmas tree is probably the most divisive thing about Christmas across the country. I mean aside from where you are spending it, and who with etc… etc… . Fear not, this is not a post about whether you should go real or fake (though it’s real obviously… I don’t care that you’ll still be finding stray pine needles in August, and that at some point in late November you’ll be unblocking the hoover, and the somehow, against all the odds, the dust/hair/elastic band formed knot of ‘life’ that has been causing aforementioned blockage will emerge, sprinkling some needles that still, all these months on, smell of pine). It’s not even about when you put it up. Until this year I would have judged you (if it went up in November I still judge you), if there were more than two clear weekends between the tree being erected and Christmas day itself (note to self, it’s probably about time to order the Turkey now). This year however, I felt the need to get my Christmas on a little early, and so up it went last weekend. I too have joined in the early rush.
Ordinarily, tree purchasing causes some issues in the Rouse House. We started off in our first home together with a humble sized tree. I’m talking a practical, 4 foot, actually living in a pot – though of course we lived in a first floor flat, with no balcony, so I’m not quite sure where we thought that would live long term. Briefly, for that first year, there were even multicoloured lights that Mr R purchased in a fit of excitement – it was his first real tree. They flashed and everything. They might have got accidentally trodden on when they were being packed away, and so were replaced by the simple white, non-flashing lights the next year, ie, the correct sort of lights to have on your tree.
But even though we had a few ‘sensible’ years tree wise, since the children were old enough (though now technically they’re too old/unwieldy) to be perched on our shoulders, unless it’s touching the ceiling, it’s not going to happen.
We also buy our tree together. This is not because we want to get that festive feeling, nor be taken aback at the beauty and loveliness of all things Christmas in the garden centre that I won’t let them buy, but he will (in pink! that’s not the colour scheme!). It is simply because Mr R cannot be trusted to get the right tree if he is left to his own devices. One year, which is forever etched in both our minds for reasons that will become very clear, with a three year old and a one year old, and all the car seat/pram paraphernalia that entails, I sent him off to Homebase alone. Clear instructions I gave him, very, very clear ones.
First rule – always take the netting off.
Second rule – always ask them to give it a shake and rotate the tree so that you can check it’s balanced
Third rule – never settle for the first tree. It doesn’t matter how annoyed or surly the seasonal teenage assistant looks (it is their default look after all), it’s not as if they have something else to be getting on with. They are here to sell trees. Get the right tree. You can go back to number one, but you need to know it was a lucky first pick.
Off he went.
He returned alarmingly quickly. Tree purchasing is not something to do in haste. There is a lot of walking up and down outside aisles weighing up the pros and cons of different varieties, children getting steadily more cold and fed up. What can I say? I take this seriously.
Immediately I could see we had a problem. Bad stump. This had not been in my explicit set of rules, but it was self-evident that the bottom of the tree was too fat for our pot. We bought it into the house. The children were excited. The netting came off.
It was immediately clear that the netting had never been off before. ‘I didn’t want to bother them’ said Mr R. What we had, was an extremely lop sided tree, with brown branches at the bottom, and several that just fell off altogether, as well as that malformed stump that was not going to fit in the pot. ‘Take it back’ I said immediately. Well, there is – apparently – only so much a man who has driven to Homebase, picked up the first tree he saw, put it in an empty car and driven home can take. And returning a substandard £50 tree is not one of them. Arguments ensued. I apparently ruined the first Christmas in our new home (I think you’ll find that title was given to the buyer of the RUBBISH TREE), and the kids just wanted to put their rubbish handmade decorations on it.
Having paid a lot for an 8 foot tree, the solution was to cut 2 foot off it so it resembled and actual tree as opposed to some sort of ice-cream (there really was that much trunk). We drank some mulled wine. It was fine. I swore never to let him buy a tree unaccompanied again, and he agreed…. until that is… this year.
And this year I had help. Two children sent off with him with the rules above (now with an added fourth rule – check the branches go to the bottom and the stump will fit in the pot). And do you know what? HE DID WELL! It’s a lovely tree. I on the other hand had not done so well. Somewhere in a storage unit in the North of Jersey, are all my nice decorations. Lights I have (white, non flashing), garlands I have (no tinsel, more on that shortly). Well said the kids, their little faces lighting up. Maybe this Christmas, we’ll just decorate it with our decorations we have made! They are in this box too! This year will be different! We will have full control and decision making in what goes on the tree!
And here is where the true Christmas tree divide comes in, and I must confess to being a truly dreadful mother, but one whose tree looks amazing. Which isn’t probably what Christmas is meant to be about. But hey ho. Or ho ho ho…. (sorry, that was bad).
With Christmas trees, be they real or fake, be they classy or kitsch, the issue is the level of involvement you allow kids in the decorating of your tree. Last year I watched as the kids put all the gold stars in one section of the tree. I didn’t even bother to wait for them to go to bed before I tried to show them how to balance them, and, unlike planting bulbs in the garden, that you don’t group the same altogether. Simple right?
I think most parents would admit to a little rearranging of the tree once the helpers are out of the way… this is surely not divisive? But what is, is whether you will allow ‘their’ decorations anywhere near ‘your’ tree. Don’t judge me (you are aren’t you?) The fact I am effectively calling it my tree is not a good start. We started this year with the hand-felted robins, the candy canes, the glitter glued fir cones, because I HAD NOTHING ELSE. I have lived with it like that for five, long days. Yesterday I broke. I bought new decorations, and a new (not handmade, well actually very hand made by a talented stain glass maker rather than one of my children) topper for the tree. And for the first time, it looks Christmassy. I feel Christmassy.
At the expense of being a control freak and not letting my children have any control on the Christmas tree.
Silver lining, they are being allowed to eat the candy canes simply so they are off my beautifully coordinated silver and gold tree. There is no room for red.
And I did let them watch Elf.