How do you trim your Christmas tree? What’s your style? Colour-co-ordinated, in size order, designed to within an inch of its life? ‘Geoffrey, the red glass baubles never go higher than the striped candy canes. For shame!’
Is it full of hand-made offerings from over-excited children? ‘Oh, another scrap of paper ripped from my shopping list with added cottonwool ball, glitter and an unfeasible amount of glue. Thanks kids!’
Or laden with cheap and cheerful decorations that the cat can’t possibly do too much damage to?
Our tree would probably be referred to by festive fashionistas as ‘eclectic’, a polite term for ‘a bit of a mash-up’. It’s a party-bag of Christmas-shaped memories that we have collected over the years from the places we have visited. I have to take main responsibility, though, for the bulk of the decorations. A year-long round-the-world trip some time ago provided an abundance of tat from each country. When you’re a cash-strapped traveller, something small and bright with a label that says ‘handcrafted’ is a good bet for a memento.
And of course, when these precious memories emerge from their boxes ready to be placed on the tree, it takes me hours. I remove one at a time. I remember the country it came from. I think about the adventures and experiences, and become wistful about ‘those days’. I regale my partner with amusing little stories he’s heard a heap of times before. I look at photos. I promise myself I’ll email certain folk I met there and have never been in touch with since. I plan repeat trips. I become misty-eyed and eventually have the glass of wine taken off me.
But best of all are the memories of reading, because I associate every decoration and every country with a particular book.
One of the best things about travelling was having the time to read. Proper reading, the read-a-whole-book-in-a-day sort, without feeling guilty that I should be marking, doing the hoovering or cleaning the microwave. I read stacks – new books, books recommended by other travellers, books I would never usually read but they were the only ones available and I was desperate, and some old favourites. And lifting out a Christmas decoration in December always brings back the emotions and responses I had then, and I have to search the bookcase until I find the book and re-read favourite parts. (Although who am I kidding, I’m a girl – my bookcase is alphabetised so it’s an easy job).
Silk elephants on a string? Ah, if it’s India, it’s Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, a book I was reluctant to read because it looked so, well, depressing. But what a find. A journey by father and son to the coast in the hope of surviving post-apocalyptic America. No names, no speech punctuation. Spare dialogue packed with meaning. My heart was rung out by the end.
A tiny wooden boomerang? A case of the flu in Sydney meant days of working my way through the hostel swap shelf. I came across The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, a story set in Nazi Germany about a little girl and her life as World War II escalates. The book is narrated by Death, which is strange and brilliant. It’s a great read.
Embroidered hearts with bells on? Must be Laos, which brought me to Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. I’ve described in a previous blogpost how wonderful this book is. It is a timeless tale of love and sacrifice and true goodness. At Christmas when I re-read the final chapter I find myself shaking my head in awe.
A merino wool elf? I reacquainted myself with a Stephen King classic whilst in New Zealand. The Dead Zone tells the story of a man who, after being in a coma for years, wakes up being able to see the future of anyone he touches. Is it a gift or a curse? A chance meeting with a politician sets him on the road to sacrifice and salvation. Stephen King is, in my view, totally under-rated. He is a magical storyteller who is snubbed for being too popular. Read it and weep.
So in my house, trimming the tree at Christmas is a bit like being a small child in a library – books scattered everywhere, plenty of noise, tears, laughter and a strop when you realise you have to finish what you’re doing and leave. And the tree ends up looking like it’s been decorated by a small child too.
The Coventry Primary English Team wishes you all a very merry Christmas.