When I was a child, we always had real Christmas trees. My father, my mother and I would drive to a Christmas tree farm to choose the perfect tree. My father would carry it into our apartment and place it carefully in the stand which my mother had set up on an old white sheet in the corner of the living room.
My father’s first job was to put the lights on the tree. I would help untangle them and together we would check if all the bulbs worked. Invariably they didn’t. Luckily my father always seemed to have enough spare bulbs to replace the dead ones. He would string the lights from the top of the tree, sitting one of the clear bulbs at the top, right under the branch where the star would sit. My father’s last job was to put the star at the top of the tree.
The star, like most of our Christmas decorations, was hand made. My mother had cut a piece of cardboard into the shape of a star and covered it with aluminium foil. In the weeks leading up to December, she would find the suitcase with the decorations and she would sift through them, throwing out those which were too tatty to be used again and making new ones to replace them. When I was old enough, I would help her.
We made paper chains of strips cut from the left-over Christmas wrapping paper. These were then draped over the tree, starting from the top. We made pine cone people by gluing cotton wool balls onto the top of pine cones. On the cotton wool balls we would glue sequins for eyes and wrap pipe cleaners around the middle for arms. We then attached thick gold thread around them and hung them from the branches of the tree. We also had store bought Christmas balls. Last of all we threw handfuls of tinsel onto the tree, making it look as if it had been drenched by a silver shower. The picture shows me, aged around 4 or 5, sitting under our Christmas Tree.
Every night leading up to Christmas, after dinner, my father would turn the lights on the tree and we would sit in the living room watching them twinkle. On Christmas eve the three of us would take our special decorations and place them on the tree. My mother would put on a record of Christmas carols and we would sing along to them.
Just before I went to bed each Christmas eve, after I hung my stocking on the mantelpiece, I would make sure I put out a glass of milk, a Christmas cookie and a carrot for Santa Claus and his reindeer.
Nowadays, my tiny tree sits on the mantelpiece dwarfed by the paintings on the wall above it. I only just took it out of storage today. There are no Christmas lights and no handmade decorations, only memories.