I got the tree up 5 days ago, which was an unexpectedly calamitous event. The tree is artificial and nearly 25 years old. Every year it sheds more and more non-real leaves. The moulting, fake leaves leave a trail on the stairs and across the hallway, as I drag it down into the lounge in three heavy segments, and then the leaves carpet the lounge carpet, whilst I wrestle the bits of tree out of their plastic storage bags.
I assembled it (it’s 6 feet tall), wrapped the lights around it, then the rows of sparkly bead things, then hung up about 50 ancient ornaments, three of which I knitted years and years ago; a snowman, an elf and a tiny father Christmas.
I knitted a lot of Christmassy things years ago and, because I pack them away in carrier bags every year, they come out looking like new. It’s amazing. Just imagine if you could reach say the age of 35, and pack yourself away at the end of every year, coming out a couple of months later not having aged at all.
I also hung my knitted stockings by the chimney with care.
In the hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there (my knitted version is already there in his tiny wooden chair)
And set up the obligatory nativity, even though I have atheistic tendencies. Yes, many christmas moons ago, I got it into my head to knit a bunch of biblical-type people and they’ve loitered around the fireplace, annually, ever since.
After hoovering up millions of fallen false leaves, I sat down thinking ‘job well done’ and opened my trusty laptop friend, to begin typing random stuff into Google for want of anything better to do, when a sort of rustling sound drifted into my left ear. Turning in a slo-mo fashion – like I’d gone into ‘bullet time’ from The Matrix, I was greeted by the sight of the tree (also behaving like it maybe thought it was a plant-based Keanu Reeves) ever so slowly making its way down to the floor, from its previously erect position. Taking a few seconds to register what had happened, I jumped up from the settee, uttering the occasional ‘blast’ and ‘dammit’, which is as bad as the swearing gets around here, then began the laborious process of setting the whole tree shebang up again. It was round about then that I began to have uncharitable thoughts towards the whole idea of Christmas.
Whose clever idea was this anyway?
Well, back in ancient Rome they used to hold a big party, round about December 17th, in honour of Saturn, the Roman God of just about everything. This rave up was called Saturnalia, and was a time when all society’s rules (such as they were; in a land where your average Jo risked getting served up as free range cat food for the lions) got broken. Men dressed up as women and vice versa; the masters dressed as servants and everybody decked their Roman halls with holly and ivy, lit loads of candles and dished out presents.
Because winter tended to be very dark and dismal, the Romans also went in for knocking back keg loads of ancient wine and barrels of ancient beer. This was primarily so the peasants could forget how crap being a Roman peasant generally was, spending most of the winter in a Gallic stupor. Not that Roman beer was much good – one Emperor was so moved by how rubbish it was, that he composed a sort of ode to beer complaining that it smelled like an old goat. Not much has changed actually – although I’d go for ‘sock’ myself.
Moving on through the veil of time and the next big knees up for the Romans was the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (birthday of the unconquered Sun) which took place on December 25th. This was a festival that brought together all the world’s different Sun-Gods’ (there were many) birthdays into one big solar based hoot – because your average Sun-God was almost always born on the 25th.
Pagans all over the world worshipped the Sun and got very worked up when it started disappearing during the winter months, fearing it would never come back; and so when the days started getting longer again after December 25th (hence why the Sun-Gods tended to be born on the 25th) they all breathed a sigh of relief and broke out the mulled wine and mince pies.
These ancient Pagan Sun-Gods were all remarkable, in that quite a few of them arrived on the planet via a Virgin birth, and had Dads who were Gods, and went around with disciples performing various miracles and wound up dying gruesome deaths and then found eternal life.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that this all sounds vaguely familiar but the Christian biblical scholar types are having none of it. NO! – you irreligious idiots. Jesus Christ was nothing like these horrid Pagan imposters. Even though these other Gods had been going since time began, they did not influence the Christian religion in any way at all. Our Lord Jesus’s resemblance to previous Gods, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Anyway, round about this time, the Christians started waging their ‘peaceful’ war to force everyone to be Christian and hijacked December 25th as the birth of their Son of God (sounds very like Sun-God doesn’t it?) – but they couldn’t get rid of the good old Pagan traditions of bringing greenery into your home and throwing a gallon of home brew down your neck – which is why I spent all that time sticking up a Christmas tree last week – minus the home brew.
After decking my halls – Fa la la la la la la la la – I turned my attention, yet again, to festive baking and decided to bake a gingerbread house, this time for son No. 1 and his friend.
I used the Mary Berry recipe and things looked to be going well, despite the fact that an entire tub of butter goes into La Berry’s gingerbread.
I gave the jigsaw pieces a day to dry out but noticed that they still seemed pretty flexible and very buttery. I then iced them and used two packs of giant buttons for the roofs.
Then I began sticking the house together with royal icing, made by stirring cold water into the royal icing sugar, nearly suffocating in a sugar cloud every time. To be honest, baking is pretty hard work – I don’t know how the Bake Off lot do it.
Lastly I placed the roof on very gingerly (which was the only thing to do with gingerbread) and bunged icing all around it – knowing in my heart that this wasn’t going to work, as I felt the still very moist and flexible house buckle under the weight of a thousand chocolate buttons.
5 minutes after that picture was taken the house slowly caved in on itself – just like the tree had slowly fallen over 5 days ago.
It was quite a disappointment after all that work. Still, my husband came home and said, doesn’t matter just say it’s a ‘ruin’ – which is a pretty accurate description.