Breath is bated. Breath is held. Centuries of disappointment are built into this moment.
Expectations set in the old days of fiddly bulbs are hard to shake. The plug is switched on at the wall. The Christmas lights come on! They work! Of course they should work. We paid for them and they should do what they said on the box they were going to do.
But for some reason every year we only have 50% hope. Which is good I suppose because that leaves only 50% despair if they don’t.
A few years ago we made the almost superhuman effort to put away Christmas lights properly. It’s not easy.
Christmas de-treeing is the most depressing task and you’d be tempted to throw the lights on the fire and the tree into the sea.
Or just mush them together in a lump that looks like mating snakes, but if you can be strong and wrap the lights around a stick, you will be rewarded in early December.
The Christmas decorations are down from the attic. We have them in boxes.
It’s very effective though I’m sorry we’re not using a plastic bag. The Christmas tree decoration plastic bag is a curious piece.
It is used twice a year for packing and unpacking and then stored for the rest of the year so it doesn’t get the wear and tear that others get. So it lasts.
And becomes a little under-appreciated memento. In longer term houses the Christmas decoration bag can help preserve the old branding of supermarkets from decades before. The green and white Dunnes Stores branding before they ‘went all dear’. Or Quinnsworth.
Or the Irish-quiz-where-the-prize-is-a-fiver look of Superquinn. Or, even better, they are the only surviving memory of a family run department store that used to be Up The Town.
A shop where the people who ran it were ‘quality’.
“Mrs SlightlyBritishName was a pure lady. But then the son went off the rails with drink and the horses’ and it was sold for flats”
This is the time when we establish new traditions. We need to be careful. Christmas decorating traditions are notoriously tenacious.
The jobs that each person does around Christmas are more permanent than any other job they have for the rest of their lives.
If we lift one small child up to put on the angel this year she’ll want it forever.
I can picture a future conversation going as follows:
‘I’m doing the tree.’
‘But I want to do it this year. You always do the tree.’
‘That’s because I’m the eldest. I was doing the tree when you were still wetting the bed.’
‘But I want a go.’
‘You’re not qualified.’
‘What kind of qualifications do you need to decorate a tree?’
‘I did Engineering; you only did Arts.’
Decorations are a curious object too.
Once any have made it to the tree, it’s impossible to throw them out. It’d be like telling Santa to feck off. They accumulate, each one a time-stamp of a year.
Thankfully there’s always attrition – the bag of baubles that got loose in June and ended up inexplicably in the hedge; two shepherds from the crib who joined a group of plastic zoo animals and were last seen with leopards blu-tacked to their shoulders instead of sheep.
The decorations are up and so are we.
For a few weeks anyway.