Tinsel Town

By Lynne Truss, Thursday 15 December 2011

Alphabet L Lynne Truss agonises over the merits of old and new Christmas decorations

Even though it will make you despise me for my terrible bad taste, I am going to tell you this. In front of me, as I write, is a Christmas ornament that has ended up sitting on my dining table all year round. It is not an heirloom or valuable Victorian porcelain. Is it a conversation piece, perhaps? Oh, no. Far from being a conversation piece, it is instead the sort of thing that, while visitors are bound to notice it, they will tactfully ignore. It is a glittery pink reindeer, mass-produced circa 2007, about a foot tall, with plastic antlers, proudly wearing a soft, dark feather boa round its neck, frozen in an ambulatory attitude suggestive of unhurried woodland strolling.

Frankly, I don’t know why I bought it. But no matter how tacky and new, if it symbolises Christmas, it’s special and it can’t be thrown away. However, neither is it heavy with memories of jolly Christmases past, so it can’t go in the loft and be precious either. It’s fixed in seasonal limbo.

It embodies my complete confusion about Christmas decorations these days. When I was a child, it was so simple – decorations ritually came out of storage and went back in. From the age of about eight, I took charge of the whole annual archiving job (I was that kind of girl), and consequently I can remember everything about those old green-and-red concertina paper chains, with their lacy tissue cut-outs. I can even remember the lovely, whispery flipp-flipp-flipp sound they made when you extended them. The pin holes are still visible in my mum’s living-room ceiling, by the way.

Needless to say, this archiving job I took very seriously – carefully stripping the coloured lametta (thin strip-tinsel) from the scratchy silvery Christmas tree, then folding its branches so that it would fit back into its ancient cardboard box; separating the two sets of Christmas lights, one of which resembled beautiful pastel-coloured Chinese lanterns. We never bought new decorations, because there was nothing wrong with the ones we had. That was the way we thought about all material things in those far-off days, of course. The idea of buying new, or more tasteful, baubles and lights – or, indeed, a reindeer in a novelty scarf – would have seemed absolutely crazy.

But nowadays you can’t take that attitude to anything, can you? Our tastes change; there’s lots of lovely new stuff available; we like to move on. I have a friend who positively yearns to ditch the Christmas decorations she’s got (and start again), but her teenaged son won’t let her. ‘But I bought these in the Eighties!’ she pleads. ‘They are garish and old-fashioned!’ It’s very frustrating. As she rightly points out, if she still wore the clothes she’d worn in the Eighties, she’d be regarded as a mad person.

If she drove a Triumph Dolomite, there would be talk. So is it fair, she asks, that her house at Christmas is the décor equivalent of shoulder-pads, frizzy perms, Blankety Blank and leg-warmers?

I’m on the side of the son. Call me an old romantic, but that cardboard box full of tangled tinsel – always light as air, and tinkling ominously when you shake it – well, is it right to cast it away? Can new tacky stuff really improve on old tacky stuff? Will this newfangled reindeer ever say ‘Christmas’ to me? (Obviously not, since I keep him on display all year.)

There is only one solution. Arson. Set fire to the garage. She’ll have to deny responsibility, of course – for ever – and be ‘devastated’ that the decorations are ruined. But I think it’s the only answer.


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