This is something I wrote two days after we got home, Wednesday 12th January 2010
If you believe keeping the decorations up after Twelth Night brings bad luck, then I've got a crap year ahead. However, I have rationalised that they don't worry about such things in Europe, so why should I? All over the mountain towns and villages and resorts of the Alps, Dolomites and Pyrenees, lights still twinkle and greenery adorns windows and doors well into March. Thus, if the Fates are watching, I'm being European, ok? So give me a break...
Having been physically out of the country on 6th January, I feel there is some justification to my stance. If I'm not here, I can't do it, can I? And I had rather a lot on my plate on 27th December (the day we departed for holiday as our Christmas week's guests also left) as it was, without having to consider decoration removal. And so we came back to a house that is like the girl who stayed too long at the party, drank too much and is now asleep in the corner, mascara-smudged and with her mouth lolling open. Not attractive.
The first night we were home I turned the Christmas tree lights on as it was sad to see her in the corner all unlit faded glory. We enjoyed her dimmed opulence for one last night before yesterday I set about the task of removing her clothes from her weary limbs. She had done well. Still lots of needles on her, despite being dulled of tone and a little droopy round the edges. It is a job I hate, not least because I find it so sad. Such a contrast to when you are dressing her up in all her finery, a sense of expectation of the festive times ahead, Christmas music on the stereo and a fire in the grate. Now here I was in the cold white light of this snowy winter's day, pulling the tinsel from around her waist and removing all her jewellery. I put on some Paolo Nutini to keep my mood up, but I couldn't help feeling reflective none the less. Every year I do this task, I become a little maudlin and wonder if all the people I love will still be around me next year. Every year we have a good Christmas (and this year was a great one), I wonder if it will be the last of its kind. The year after we'd had a great one when I was in my twenties, my Grandfather died; the year after our wonderfully memorable one in Milan my dear father-in-law died. His departure was balanced by the arrival of our oldest daughter, but things were never quite the same again.
But you find you adjust, as the years go by. You remember the good times, the parties, the laughter and make the best of the line-up you currently have. As my own parents age, we have the youthful exuberance of our daughters to keep the energies flowing, while the ghosts of people past linger quietly round the edges of the room, silently contributing still. It's not quite the same party, but it has new dimensions to cherish. Friends start to take the place of family as you include them more in your celebrations, and this year we added a lone aunt and uncle who had not previously spent Christmas with us up here. It was a huge success, everyone agreed, adding new elements to the chemistry and conversation.
With every discarded present tag, I read the words, the love, the kisses and wonder if that hand will still be writing next year. Three people close to me have lost parents this Christmas time - one before, two after. As the music plays in my empty house, I want to clasp these labels to my chest and hope that next year we can share our time together again. It is so precious, after all.