Denise Irvine: Happy Christmas, fake tree and all

22:35, Dec 21 2013
Christmas tree, generic
SIGN: Denise Irvine's fake tree is a reminder that Christmas, like life, does not stay the same.

I'm sure that on Wednesday I'll be awakened early by gleeful sounds of visiting grandchildren as they nip downstairs to see what Santa's left for them under the Christmas tree.

They'll probably also check to see if Santa consumed the generous helping of fruit cake and beer that their father thoughtfully left out. I'm sure, in the midst of such excitement they won't notice that the blingy Christmas tree in our house is a fake, the first time ever that such a travesty has been allowed.

My husband, Bill, banned fake trees, and he'd either hitch up the trailer, head out of town to buy the real thing from a supplier, or lug in one he had growing outdoors in a tub. In the aftermath, of course, we dealt with dead pine needles, sticky sap, and a dejected looking object. But we loved the pine-scented glory of the first few weeks.

Since Bill has been too ill to forage for trees I've felt very un-Christmassy and I gave up on decorations as my quiet protest about the vicissitudes of life. But with little kids in the house this Christmas Eve, I've relented, and the fake tree carted home from Centre Place in a tidy box looks pretty damn fine decorated with all our favourite stuff, and some twinkly lights, the bonus being there is not a stray pine needle or skerrick of sticky sap in sight.

The fake tree seems like a neon sign to me, its message being that Christmas, or any other aspect of life, does not stay the same. You seem to be constantly rewriting the rules, creating new ways of doing things, while gamely trying to hang on to some of the old ways.

Christmas can be a glad day, a sad day. There is a heightened sense of loss, you miss people more. They are remembered in the stories that get told. In our family, there's the time my grandfather, aged 85, tried to stand on his head after too many glasses of whisky one Christmas Day. How my father died unexpectedly on December 22 and we had to hold his funeral on Christmas Eve.


How Uncle Tom always made the best ham and mustard sandwiches on Christmas night, we squeezed them in after a day's eating because they were so darned good.

Along with missing old faces, there is the welcoming of new ones. Loss and gain. This is the cycle of Christmas, of life, of nothing staying the same. In our family, there are now cherished daughters-in-law and grandchildren. I can't imagine being without them.

Above all, the magic of Christmas remains. Somehow - no matter what's down beforehand - it's usually okay on the day.

Everyone does it differently. Some people must work while others play; I always hope the workers get a little time for themselves. Some people attend church, some sit down to eat with a cast of family and friends, some attend community lunches, others prefer solitary treats. But always there's an atmosphere, an innate friendliness wherever you are, a stillness in the air. Most people, I'd like to think, avoid friction on this day.

There is an absence of cars on the road, few people on the streets, no newspapers in the letterboxes, a blessed lack of emails in the inbox. If you're in Hamilton, and you live near the Cathedral Church of St Peter, you hear the joyful peal of bells and remember how the day came about.

There are goofy movies on television, if anyone's interested, then the Queen's Message in the evening. I've watched the monarch age gracefully during decades of well-enunciated pronouncements to the Commonwealth, I've never quite worked out how I feel about her.

The shops and supermarkets are shut, but thank goodness for Indian dairy owners who open up and save me when I've forgotten the cream. There are always cheerful greetings from the dairy families. We may not all share the same beliefs and cultures, but I think we're pretty good at acknowledging and respecting each other's traditions and special occasions.

It's like a large chunk of the population jumps off the swinging carousel for a day, concentrates on those most precious, the things most important, before heading to the beach, or back to work, to the inevitable Boxing Day sales, or diving into a new book. Then we take down the Christmas decorations, and start the cycle again.

It's occurred to me that the fake tree will be a doddle to pack away this year. No vacuuming and disposal of dead wood or a hefty tub. I like it. Happy Christmas everyone.