‘I switch on my twinkly lights with the pleasure of a child’
Decking her entire home with long strands of ivy, handfuls of fir cones, colourful baubles and strings of lights keeps Jeanette Winterson busy through Advent
On the morning of 21 December, the winter solstice, I get up while the stars are still frosting the sky, and I start the Christmas decorations. All through the month I’ve been preparing, so I know what’s going to happen. By now, I have collected fir cones on my winter walks with the dog, sprayed them red, green, gold, silver, white, and wired groups of them together to fasten onto the A-frame beams of my kitchen.
This could be tasteful, except that I love Christmas lights, and have already wound the honest oak beams in multi-strings of those dinky bluey-white diamond twinklers that are kitsch and fabulous in equal measure.
In the still-dark morning, coffee steaming, dog sleeping, I switch on my lights with the pleasure of a five-year-old child. Then, up go the cones, and beneath them, in flights of glory, metal angels pressed out of a sheet of thin steel and painted beautifully and badly.
The kitchen also gets felt donkeys and knitted sheep. My mother, Mrs Winterson, used to knit for Jesus, and nativities were a specialty, all the shepherds wearing scarves because our Bethlehem was in Lancashire.
I don’t put greenery in the kitchen – too hot. I save the long strands of deep, almost purple ivy I have unwrapped from silent trees in the heart of the woodland, and pile
them on the tops of my mantelpieces, holding them in place with oranges stuffed with cloves. The ivy, orange and cloves give off the most pungent, clean winter scent, but be generous – at least three to a mantelshelf. Any shelf will do, but higher is better, especially if there is a cat in the house.
Cats are the reason I have given up on an indoor tree. Every year, the cats biff the lower baubles and smash them. If I put the baubles further up, the cats climb after them. So now I hang my baubles anywhere I like in the house, going round with a
hammer and a jam jar of panel pins. I have some jolly tin Santa Clauses (yes, I love tin toys), and if I nail them over the fireplaces, the chimney draughts blow their legs around, to the great delight of small children.
My Christmas tree is kept outside, lit by lights, and decorated with whatever madness anyone likes. The rule of a visit over Yuletide is that you bring something for my tree. This can be anything: a bow tie, a washing up brush, a pheasant feather. It’s a lot of fun adding to it as the days go by, and especially pleasing when a pair of robins sit on the branches.
My rule is to spend as little as possible and to be as abundant as possible. I make the door wreaths out of bent and twine-tied whippy branches, cut from the hedgerows, and plaited in with holly and whatever red and yellow dogwood I have in the garden. It’s easy and it’s free.
Every year, I try something new. This year, I’m going to give my Christmas tree three (rather small) kings made of chicken wire with conifer woven through it, and mop heads dyed gold. It won’t be tasteful but it will be lots of fun. ✴ Christmas Days: 12 Stories and
12 Feasts for 12 Days by Jeanette Winterson (Jonathan Cape) is out now