And thankfully the last
(Published on December 24, 2016 in Business Standard)
The first and only time my family celebrated Christmas, I was seven or eight. It was early in our stint in Switzerland, and my mother thought that she would do the whole thing with the tree and the presents and so on, to broaden our cultural horizons. She duly went out ten days beforehand and bought a tree—a teenage sized fir, as firs go, in a pot. Glossy green, not too big, not too small; quiet personality, but with a presence; just right for pre-pubescents to decorate without injury. She placed it in a festive corner behind the television (it was a small apartment, and one needs to be able to see the television), and we awaited the big day with excitement. In our Christmas, we were all the virgin.
Some days later, the tree began to look a bit peaky. A day or two after that, it turned brown from head to foot. Shortly after that it heaved a deep sigh, dropped four-fifths of its needles onto the floor in one whoosh, and expired. Consternation. It turned out that we were supposed to have watered it. But this was our first Christmas, and we weren’t going to give up on our tree just because it had died. What if they’d given up on Jesus just because he had died?
A couple of days before Christmas, therefore, we dressed up the poky brown stem with shiny balls and gold stars and angels and whatnot. We dressed ourselves up too—I had my hair in a bun, for some reason, and wore an old lady’s grey sweater, and a skirt. It’s amazing that I didn’t develop arthritis. We arranged our presents around the dead tree and settled in for some Christmas cheer.
The whole thing was a fiasco. I broke my mother’s pearl necklace, and when she assumed it was my little brother’s fault, I let her yell at him in an act of cowardice that makes me cringe to this day. I didn’t give anyone presents—though, in my defence, the narrative suggested that children only rightfully get presents. My father was in a bad mood—though, in his defence, he’d had three children before the age of 30, and the bad mood predated and postdated that Christmas. My mother’s smile careened between chirpy and psycho—though, in her defence, she’d had three children before the age of 26, no experience of Christmas trees, and was stressed out by her sulking husband, her yowling five-year-old, and her eldest daughter who, in my memory, remained barricaded in her room. As her middle child I was largely inconsequential, but when I entered her field of vision, glamorously bunned and skirted up, she managed to remark that I would certainly always have to make my eyes up, “later”.
It was a perfectly dreadful evening, bad feelings fogging around our dead tree, a tinselled skeleton mired in a pot of guilt and regret. It was sort of redeemed by the presents we opened the next day, but very soon thereafter we reached an unspoken family consensus that we should just never attempt to do stylised celebrations ever again—and we didn’t. When it comes to Christmas, much like weddings, other people’s are more fun to go to than one’s own.
The tail end of this year feels much like that evening, to me, and so I feel we’re all about due for a spot of redemption. I have forsworn all religious greetings, but I predict that you’re going to spend Saturday and Sunday eating and drinking, so here’s wishing you a happy weekend.
Tip: If you’re not having fun, you need to start watering your plant ten days ago.