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Once upon a time, there was a little girl who looked forward to Christmas. Most years, a week or so before Christmas Day, Mum and the kids would drive out into the forest to cut down a rogue pine tree. Sometimes we’d get to ride out on the roof rack, while Mum slowly negotiated the potholes in the dirt roads. It usually took awhile, and much debate, before we located the perfect tree, which was then sawn off at the base and tied to the roof rack. With the car windows open, the smell of pine engulfed us, against the dust and heat. That was how Christmas began, most years.

Roof rack ride cropAt home, we’d spend about an hour getting the tree to stand upright in a bucket, using bricks and sand, and then some water to keep it fresh. Inevitably, having wrestled it indoors, we realised we’d chosen a tree that scraped the ceiling, which was not that easy to secure, but great for absorbing the many generations of decorations Mum kept beautifully wrapped in a box. Decorating the tree was a bit like Christmas Day, as each year we seemed to have forgotten what those little tissue paper bundles contained.

And with each year came the same dilemma; one of the Christmas lights had blown and there was the scramble to find spare bulbs  … if there were any spare bulbs. Sometimes, Dad had to make a last minute dash into Anglesea, in hope the newsagent hadn’t sold out of bulbs. Often this meant coming home with a whole new set of lights. But we had to have lights. What’s a Christmas tree without lights?

Night before Xmas cropDecorating the tree took place with appropriate records spinning on the turntable, usually Bing Crosby’s Merry Christmas or some compilation of carols. My favourite was always Joy To The World, mainly because I’d experienced singing the descant in the school choir, in the days when my voice could hit the high notes. And it’s a very joyous song.

There was always the obligatory photo in front of the tree, although Mum had a habit of cutting off heads at the time (here’s she’s pretty much cut off the tree), due to her eyesight playing up. I understand this physical limitation now, having inherited the same complaint. (Oh, and that’s one of the dogs in the foreground, not the turkey, as Stefan rudely suggested.)

For many, many years, Gran would come to stay with us for Christmas and over the summer holidays, and we looked forward to her arrival almost as much as we looked forward to Christmas Day. Gran was our last remaining grandparent (and she lived until she was 99 – only three months off 100) and we adored her. She had a will of steel and a wickedly dry sense of humour that would have us in fits at meal times.

Christmas lunch cropAnd Gran was quite religious, like most middle-class ladies of her generation, so attending the small wooden Anglican church down the road was an obligatory part of Christmas morning, and the prelude to opening the presents. Then one year my brother and I decided we were atheists and told Gran we wouldn’t be coming to church any more. She said we were a ‘pack of little heathens’ and was a bit disappointed, but it didn’t seem to change much. Christmas Day was still a hoot, and we showered Gran and Mum and Dad with homemade presents; a slightly wonky pottery ashtray, a painstakingly sewn needle case, a lavender bag, or perhaps an embroidered hanky. And then we ate lunch, which seemed to take hours and hours and probably ended with naps all ’round, or reading one of the new books before a late swim.

Christmas seems to have changed inexorably over my life time, with most people I know experiencing the lead up as stressful or exasperating or downright annoying. A lot of these people have kids, which is one of the remaining reasons to celebrate Christmas. Certainly I’d probably dump the whole thing if it weren’t for the kids. That said, even my kids are underwhelmed by the event, possibly due to their being ‘a pack of little heathens’ from birth. Without the associated religious ritual, Christmas has, by and large, become nothing more than a festival of consumption, with many western economies pegging their ‘health’ to the three or so weeks of excess, including the hideousness of the post-Christmas sales. This is a good a reason as any to resist the lure of the Christmas beast. And I remember reading somewhere that something like 30% of Christmas gifts end up in landfill within six months. Don’t quote me on that, but given the extent of the disposable crap that is sold and bought, it’s not an unreasonable statistic.

Recycled timber Christmas treeThis year, following two attempts at keeping a West Australian Woolly Bush alive in a pot, refusing to pay $80+ for a cut pine, and having a deeply embedded snobbery about plastic trees, I came up with the idea of a tree made from recycled timber, from the huge pile in the backyard that we collect for burning.

I drew a quick sketch of what i envisaged and the handy guy (Stefan) knocked it together in an afternoon. Last night the kids decorated it, which they do enjoy, even if it doesn’t hold quite the same resonance as it did for me as a child. Things change. My kids’ attitude to Christmas is to be encouraged I reckon. Just last week, as I cracked it with Melbourne’s pre-Christmas traffic once again, Max said to me, “Let’s not have Christmas, Mum.” But we’ll have Christmas, and it will be low-key, with a few friends over for lunch, and crackers, hats and silly jokes. Mostly it will be an opportunity to take a break from the relentless bad news – a chance to forget, just for a day, how the human species is hell bent on destroying the planet.

Recycled tree decoratedThe decorated recycled timber Christmas tree turned out just great, and I’ll probably use it to grow peas up in the off season. Those stockings are also recycled, having belonged to me and my sister back in the good old days.

I had thought about writing a post on the very many ways governments and corporations are simultaneously taking advantage of Christmas and emptying it of any meaning it might have – good will toward men, for example. But I decided to resist playing into the hands of those who have become synonymous with Ebenezer Scrooge, and instead thought I’d dredge up some ghosts, reminding myself, at least, that Christmas was once a time of joy and simple pleasures.