Getting the new tree just right. A Dad’s way of embracing the Christmas spirit.

December 4, 2012

Rule number one. You can never have enough tinsel. When it comes to Christmas trees, bare is bad.

I have a new tree this year. First time I can remember actually buying one.

The girls suggested I wade into a nearby pine forest, and cut one down. Strap it to the roof of the Honda. Show it off to the neighbours. Yes, they watch too many movies.

Instead, my new symbol of the festive season came in a box, from a busy department store. There were so many to pick from. Different heights, bases, and thickness. Who knew?

I can’t recall buying our last one. And I have no idea where mum and dad found theirs, all those years ago. Pretty sure it didn’t come in a box.

In fact, I have no memory of our Christmas tree as a kid. We had one, of course. I just can’t picture it. Maybe too focused on the goodies underneath.

Those who sell these trees are very clever. Next to the stacks of boxes, are decorations. Every single festive item you could imagine.

They assume, quite rightly, that those of us in need of a new tree, are likely to purchase stuff to cover it.

I started with the tinsel. Three bucks a strand. The more you buy the more you save. All the colours of the rainbow. I bought a few extra, just in case.

There were boxes of baubles. Bargains on every shelf. How many coloured balls does one need? Of course, men have no idea. So we buy lots.

Two dollars for little hanging Santas. Sparkling signs, that say WISH and JOY. Gold coins for each.

The girls and their mother sped past, with their bulging trolleys. They were in a Christmas frenzy of their own. The Teenager nodded approval at my purchases. Daughter Two pointed out a wonderful gold star, to sit on top. Sold.

I turned left, and found an entire section for the Christmas feast. Plates and mugs and tablecloths and hats and oven mitts and trays. All featuring Santa. I showed restraint, and passed on the oven mitts.

Those special items are now tucked away in a cupboard, waiting for the big day. But the tree is there for all to see.

The Teenager played Lead Hand in the assembly process. She’s extremely patient with such things. Daughter Two, struggling with a head cold from Canberra, gave advice from the sideline.

My instructions were clear. Everything I’d purchased had to find a place. The less order the better. This was the shotgun approach to tree decorating.

I’m happy to say that in the end, every member of the family had a hand in the process. The tree now lights up my room.

The girls have two Christmas trees this year. Both adorned with love. That’s the festive spirit.


Mums and Dads who give the perfect Christmas gift. And you can’t buy it. Not even online.

December 13, 2011

I’ve been trying to remember my first Christmas.

How far can you go back? If you happen to be ancient like me, it’s tough.

I can picture where we were living. Our first place. Britannia Street. The house that Dad built for us.

Where was the tree? I think it was in the corner of the lounge room. To the right, as you walked in the front door.

Try as I might, the rest is pretty much a blank. No memory of my first present. Or the decorations. And no photos.

What I can remember, is how Mum and Dad approached it all. It was their special time.

Somehow, they made sure I never missed out. Year after year.

To this day, I’m not entirely sure how they did it. Things were tough for us. In those early days, I had no idea.

When Dad’s business went bust, the family struggled big time. We lost that house. They were shattered.

But every year, come Christmas morning, there would still be a scooter. Or a Malvern Star. Or a cricket bat. I was never disappointed.

So how did they manage? It took me years to find the answer to that. Doing what parents had done years before. And still do today. They missed out themselves.

Thinking back, I can’t remember one decent present that they gave each other during those grim years. Not one.

If you’d been with us back then, you would never have known. Look under our tree, and you’d see plenty of gifts. Their trick was to wrap things they’d already given to each other. Complete with mock surprise. Fooled me every time.

Christmas Day would start with ham and tomato on toast for breakfast. I still have it to this day.

I’d end up outside while Mum was cooking lunch. Dad would help me test-ride the scooter, or the Malvern Star. Or we’d oil the new bat. And it was always just us.

For some reason, Dad never invited his side of the family over. Another unspoken rule. I knew little about them. There may have been a phone call or two. Nothing more.

Our holiday fun always came from Mum’s side. She adored her sisters, and their kids. There would be Boxing Day gatherings whenever the tribe could be gathered in the one spot. Still happens to this day. Sadly, without Mum.

My parents had a love of Christmas, that was different to what I see around me now. They embraced the gift of giving, totally. Their joy came from others being happy. Especially me.

The things they treasured were the bits and pieces I made for them at school. Badly. Wonky ashtrays. Out-of-shape clay figures. Let’s not even mention the woodwork class letter box, that may have been missing an opening for the letters.

There were no big family shopping trips to spend money we didn’t have. No fancy lights. The day just seemed to arrive, with everything done and dusted. Mum at work yet again.

Things are so different now. Not better or worse. Just different.

No-one will go without in our house this year. No presents coming out for the second time. There will be several trips to the biggest shopping centre we can find. That groaning sound you hear is our embattled credit cards.

I’m proud to say I’ve taken at least one thing from my parents. My favourite gifts, will be whatever the girls make for me. Home-made cards. The bits of paper promising to help me around the house. Even though I know they’re more likely to write their own Chinese opera than wash my car.

Life can get too complicated sometimes. In most things we do, simple is good. Mum and Dad knew that. For one day of the year, we were the richest family in the street. That’s something I’ll never forget.


My precious Christmas angels. How they’re lighting up our street, and costing me a fortune.

December 6, 2011

I live in a house of Christmas fanatics.

These girls, they refuse to live by the regulations set down by society. When it comes to the festive season, they go by their own rules.

Christmas trees go up on December 1, right? Well, tell that to Daughter Two.

She’s taken responsibility for the tree. Her pet project. This year, she decided mid-November would be a good time to get to work.

I explained that this was way too early. Bad luck. Bordering on foolhardy.

Daughter Two wasn’t listening. She was on a yuletide mission. No need to check the calender. It was tree time.

She enlisted the services of The Teenager. Together they emptied several dozen boxes onto the lounge room floor. Tinsel, and coloured balls, and angels, and candy canes, and tiny stockings. A mass of green and red and silver.

They are famous, these two, for their inability to finish any household chore. All things done by half. Their motto is “Make a start, so it looks like we’re actually doing something, and then let someone else finish it”. But not the tree.

They worked all that Sunday arvo. With Christmas carols playing in the background. Not a cross word between them. Another first. And by the end of it, they’d done a spectacular job.

It didn’t take long for them to turn their festive fingers to another project. One that splits our family down the middle. Christmas lights.

They were inspired a few years ago, by a great mate of mine. A crazy man who dedicates weeks of every year to turning his humble house into a showpiece of blazing electricity.

He spends thousands on those damn lights. Works every spare day and night. People come from far and wide to see his dazzling suburban spectacular. He even cooks a sausage sizzle for them, while guzzling cool drinks.

The girls thought it was wonderful. And immediately, demanded to know why I was so lazy, and so lacking in the Christmas spirit.

I explained that my friend was well-known for spending vast amounts of money on ridiculous projects for no clear gain. They were having none of it. We needed our own light show.

My dissenting voice was barely heard. I pointed out how high our power bill already was. It rivals newly created African nations most months. This is because the girls have a medical condition, whereby their fingers are physically unable to turn light switches off.

No-one was listening. Before I knew it, I was wrapping long lines of coloured lights across the deck and around our garden.

I did this task poorly. It didn’t help that ants were munching on me as I stretched across the bushes. But mostly, because I am incapable of untangling anything beyond a shoelace. And Christmas lights are designed to instantly tangle.

It took hours. Neighbours complained about the language, which I admit wasn’t fit for the season. Someone mentioned that my rows may have been comically uneven. It was my first and last time.

This year, out of courtesy, the girls asked me to help. I declined. To their great relief.

They’ve discovered that they can do the job much better without me. Quicker too. What took me half a day, now gets done within the hour. Something about that bloody untangling.

I could happily celebrate the festive season in the dark. As long as I can have a cool drink on Christmas Eve, and play Neil Diamond’s carols, I’m at peace.

But the rest of you seem to like the lights. The concept isn’t fading. I accept defeat.

The Christmas fanatics in my house are doing their bit. More power to them. I just wish I wasn’t paying for it.