Secrets of the Hart family tree: what I call, ‘balls’
Every year since our daughters Miranda and Alice were born, the ritual of Christmas tree decorating has remained the same. My husband, David (or father of Miranda as he is more commonly known), is in charge of all things practical in the early stages. He buys the tree, usually a 6ft Nordman fir, and keeps it in an outbuilding with holly from the garden in buckets of water.
On the afternoon of December 23 the disappearance of my largest chopping board from the kitchen heralds the arrival of the tree in the house. David bolts it into a metal stand placed on the chopping board as a firm base in a corner of the sitting room, wraps red crêpe paper around the stand and arranges a green rug artfully on the floor around the base. He then fixes the familiar glittery star at the top, arranges the lights on the tree, fetches the dusty decoration boxes from the attic and brings in the music.
The music ranges from the King’s Singers on a scratchy record from the Seventies to the wonderful traditional carols from Cathedral Choirs, the essential John Rutter album, and finally the legends. Bing, Frank, Perry, Louis and Dean croon their way through comforting songs such as Chestnuts Roasting, Cool Yule, Walking in a Winter Wonderland and It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.
David lights the fire and, his job done, sinks into an armchair from where he observes proceedings, making a few suggestions which go largely unheeded. Christopher, Alice’s husband who so loves Christmas he starts discussing it in August, pops in and out to give encouragement.
Now comes Miranda’s tinsel moment. Her passion for tinsel was acquired when she was very young and is not entirely shared by the rest of the family, but we enjoy watching her efforts at an artistic arrangement which starts with winding the tinsel round the trunk from the top, ending up in a rather solid pile on one branch at the bottom.
The Nordman fir’s bushy branches enable Alice and me to rearrange the tinsel later when Miranda is out of the room, pushing most of it into the centre of the tree to reveal just the occasional glimmer. Miranda hangs some of the largest of, what I call, “balls” (baubles is a ridiculous word) on the highest branches, then sinks into an armchair with her shi-tzu cross Peggy on her lap.
As a family we are lacking in talent for arts and crafts. Without these abilities we fall back on tried and tested decorations, some dating back to my parents’ day, others collected over the years in this country and abroad.
In past years we have tried colour schemes. Pale blue and silver was elegant but so subtle and it faded into the background. Red and silver was more cheerful but a little dull. Now with the happy addition of our young grandchildren, Alfie and Jemima, every colour is thrown in. Alice and I embark on hanging the balls of many colours, but not before we have dealt with the difficulty of the small hooks used to hang them. Trying to pick one up without the entire pile remaining attached and then scattering all over the carpet is a challenge. I must remember to have a large magnet ready. Alfie and Jemima place several decorations in one spot at their height before becoming bored and vanishing.
We are left filling any gaps with painted wooden angels, a rocking horse, icicles, rosy apples and glittering pears, a lone robin, which always prefers to hang upside down, and many other objects that have seen better days. Finally I throw silver glitter over the branches – and much of the carpet – and check the tree from all sides.
At this point I suddenly realise I am on my own (apart from the King’s Singers repeating The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy). I turn the music off and enjoy a moment of peace. It is too brief as I am interrupted by our cats, Milly and Tommy, bounding in and knocking everything off the lower branches then scattering unused decorations all over the floor. Only the sound of David shouting “biscuits!” gets them out of the way. Fortunately, Peggy is in Miranda’s room helping her to wrap presents and a nasty set-to with the cats is avoided.
Alfie and Jemima chatter excitedly in the kitchen while Alice gets their tea and Christopher comes in to say how nice the tree looks. I sit and reflect on the joys of this amusing family tradition, and how the strange habit of covering trees with curious sparkling objects can bring such pleasure to so many homes.
Sister act: Miranda and Alice go for blue and silver in their ‘subtle’ days – now past