Cotswold mother: Dressed to impress

Let’s face it: Christmas trees decorated by children look… well, shit

Let’s face it: Christmas trees decorated by children look… well, shit - Credit: Archant

Clare Mackintosh: The children love decorating the Christmas tree, but sometimes the end result requires a bit of discreet parental improvement

A Christmas tree decorated by children is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? Gold ribbon lovingly draped across the branches; family treasures rescued from tissue paper and strung on silver thread. A Sunday evening filled with laughter and happiness, with King’s College Choir on the radio and the log fire crackling, as one’s offspring joyfully carry on family traditions at this most magical time of year. Except there’s no fire, because you forgot to order a load from Trees R Us, and you’re not giving an arm and a leg to Daylesford for kiln-dried hand-turned logs you’ll burn in a day. And the kids have rebelled against the beauty of King’s College, and have insisted on the Frozen soundtrack. Again. Oh, and the tree’s a disaster. Because let’s face it: Christmas trees decorated by children look… well, shit.

If you’ve made the mistake of letting the kids actually choose the tree, it’s either ten-foot tall and now bent over beneath the ceiling, or it’s a stubby bush with not even a nod to symmetry or grace. Around this lurid green bush will now be wrapped several yards of tinsel you thought you’d thrown out years ago. The baubles – those that aren’t broken – will be gathered so far to the left that the entire tree (despite a whole day spent wedging tiny pieces of wood into the stand to keep it upright) is now listing drunkenly to one side. You’re tempted to join it.

The right hand side of the tree will be totally bare. There will be no lights at the top whatsoever, but so many clustered together at the bottom you can’t look at them without thinking of Gestapo interrogation rooms. To add insult to injury, every decoration the children have ever made will have found a home on the branches. “Where’s the wise man’s camel?” Josh asked me one year. “What wise man’s camel?” I said, playing for time. “The one I made at pre-school.” “Do you mean the egg box with the piece of yellow string stuck on one side?’”I said. “Yes,” he said impatiently, “the wise man’s camel.” He rolled his eyes, as though he had just been asked to confirm that grass was indeed green. “Um, I think I packed it away in my special box in the loft,” I said, knowing full well I threw it out with the recycling at least two years ago.

It was a satisfactory answer: it always is. At some stage the children will catch on to the fact that, given my less than enthusiastic response to the armfuls of tat they bring home from school, it is highly unlikely I am packing it up and squirrelling it away in the loft for safe keeping.

Nevertheless they believe it. I don’t have a special box. I don’t even have a box. One of the girls once poked her head in the loft when I was looking for a suitcase.

“Where’s the special box full of all our stuff?” she asked. “It’s that one,” I said swiftly, pointing to the largest and most impressive cardboard box, which – when I last looked – contained my husband’s old cricketing whites, a broken television and a full set of Linguaphone Spanish cassette tapes.

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“Wow,” she said, her eyes widening, “and it’s full of all our treasures?” “It certainly is,” I said firmly, ushering her back down the ladder and shutting the loft hatch.

If I kept the wise man’s camel, I’d have to keep it all. The fairy made out of yoghurt pots, the papier mâché Father Christmas, and the myriad salt-clay disks with glitter-filled handprints. The tree would collapse under the strain, and that’s assuming it survived the sheer embarrassment of looking like it’s been vomited on by a HobbyCraft catalogue. I sympathise immensely – I’m embarrassed too, forced to announce “The children did it themselves, you know,” in a strained voice whenever I open the front door, in case I should be mistaken for someone who genuinely thinks Lametta should be clumped, not draped. Shudder.

Of course the children love decorating the tree, and there’s no reason why they can’t. But come eight o’clock, when the Frozen CD has finally finished, and the kids have trooped off to bed, it’s down to work. Off with the tinsel, the fairy lights and the lopsided baubles, and back on with artfully, intelligently placed objects of beauty. Last Christmas the children raced down at first light to turn on the lights and gaze at ‘their’ tree. “It looks so beautiful,” Evie said in awe, and the others sighed with happiness. “Although it looks sort of…” Georgie hesitated, “sort of different.”

There was a pause, and I held my breath. Had I been too obvious? Too bold? Josh’s eyes scanned the tree from tip to trunk. “It’s not different,” he said with conviction, “we just did an even better job than we thought we did.”

That’s my boy. Merry Christmas.


This article by Clare Mackintosh is from the Christmas 2014 issue of Cotswold Life