herald

Friday 31 October 2014

Such joy... to gather round our ugly tree

CHRISTMAS, it's all a bit like that movie Groundhog Day where Bill Murray, stuck in the infuriatingly jolly, snowbound Pennsylvania town of Punxsutawney, seems doomed to repeat the same day forever, doing the same things with the same people to the same tinny festive tunes, over and over.

But as cheap, hokey and camp as it may be, I love every mangy, threadbare scrap of tinsel, every broken little festive bulb, with all my heart. Fact is, I have never grown out of Christmas.

At the very first hint of tacky festive jingle, my wife has to try to drag me out of the loft where I'm already wrestling dog-eared boxes packed with festive tat out of the eaves, endless strings of bulbs that have spent most of 12 months conspiring to weave themselves into inextricable tangles.

From Santa snow globes to selection boxes and reams of bright, crinkly wrapping paper -- even at age 45, the excitement of it all is enough to make me involuntarily break into the pee-pee dance.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for the lankier of our lot, who are fast finding the whole affair quite the test of their teenage patience.

This strikes me as we lope back and forth along our town's main street on what is meant to be a pleasant family outing to choose the tree, but with our three teens towering over us now, all long hair, hunched shoulders and hands plunged deep into skinny jeans, we look more like a band that's been on the road too long, sticking out one last tour together before calling it a day.



Hideous

Only our youngest skips ahead, in her own little world, singing something that could be Winter Wonderland over and over to herself in a high, tuneless little voice, like a talking Christmas toy after you've pulled the string on its back a little too hard.

As it happens, there are three Christmas tree pitches in the vicinity, each zealously guarded by men wearing Santa hats and stamping their feet to keep out the cold as Fairytale of New York crackles incessantly from a tiny radio stained with spray-on snow.

"It's the Pogues channel," I explain behind my hand when one of the boys is in earshot.

My wife's tactic for tree-buying, perfected after years of hideous embarrassment over all our arguing, is to hover at a safe distance until it looks as if we're close to a decision.

Choosing a tree is a bit like a family picnic where you can never find the 'perfect spot'. I want our tree to be just right, but I'm pretty sure the boys, at this point, just want the whole exercise to be done with.

"What about this one?" I say, too enthusiastically, wrestling a rather spindly offering upright and realising too late how utterly awful it is. It's a crooked, mean little thing, the Gollum of Christmas trees. I pluck a few stray pieces of straw from one or two withered limbs like it will make a difference.

One band member examines me like a doctor fascinated by a uniquely troubled mental patient, another makes a noise with his mouth that so perfectly describes derision that my shoulders immediately sag. The tallest merely turns away and begins stabbing at his phone.

The girl, meanwhile, is off staring glassy eyed at a rather eerie inflatable Santa, mirroring it as it sways a little, and I wonder for a moment whether the out-of-date cereal I dished up earlier may have had a similar effect to the bad rye I heard once made an entire French town descend into hallucinogenic hell.

"You've found one!" announces my wife, arriving a little out of breath. "Well done. I LOVE it. Let's go."

"Um," I say.

"Wait, I have an idea," says our middle teen dryly from somewhere behind a curtain of hair. "Why don't we get one that actually, like, has some BRANCHES?"

"Yeah, THAT would be helpful," says another mop witheringly from behind his smartphone. "For, like, hanging decorations on and stuff?"

The man is coming over now, clearly curious about why his trees are the subject of such unmerciful heckling at the hands of the Kings of Leon -- and I can see a look of mounting horror on my wife when suddenly our daughter pipes up from under a fir that's not dissimilar to the one I've just dejectedly dropped. "How about this one?" she chirrups."Perfect," my wife and I say at the same time.

Back in our living room, we all argue over how straight or high the tree is before sorting through a lifetime's worth of ornaments. Then, as usual, everyone drifts away, eventually losing interest in the fiddly chore of hanging baubles after about the thousandth one, until it's pretty much just my wife and I.



HUMMING

My Christmas spirit is starting to feel distinctly damp.

But then the band reappears from where, it turns out, they've been untangling lights -- which they promptly arrange and plug in. My wife and I look at each other, faces lit in the cheap glow as we admire our Gollum tree in its full glory.

"It IS perfect," says our daughter, breaking from humming a shrill version of Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree as her brothers tower around her.

"I don't know about perfect," I say to no one in particular, "but it's not bad. It's not bad at all."

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