Se­crets of the Hart fam­ily tree: what I call, ‘balls’

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

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

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