I really like Christmas…

It’s sentimental I know…but I just really like it (to quote Tim Minchin).

I really like lots of things about Christmas, but like many people at the start of building life as a new family, creating our own rituals is part of the fun, and something I particularly looked forward to. The Perry Como-heavy Christmas playlist which is put on as we decorate the tree. Making mince pies while listening to Carols from Kings. Visiting the Norwegian tree in Trafalgar Square, because my mum was taken there by her father in the late 1940s, when it was a new tradition.

But most of all, for me, it’s about the tree itself. We don’t drape the entire house in holly and paper chains – too much dusting – and I’m aware in future years the house will be swamped with Christmas tat based on the demands of small humans, so for now, I’m keeping it simple. We have the wreath, of course, and a big bunch of mistletoe, but the focus has always been the tree.

As I wrote last year, my decorations used to be all silver and purple, very cool in a geometric and snazzy disco way, but not very ‘me’ now. And most of those decorations all came from one place – Paperchase on Tottenham Court Road, round the corner from my old office – so they had no ‘tale’ linked to them, no real sentimental value apart from the fact they’re pretty, and I suppose they do remind me of the years I spent living and working in that area, but they are made of glass, and not very practical now.

So when I bought my old house, and had my white walled living room with red rug and red sofa, I decided to match my Christmas decorations to the room, (I even had a ‘red party’ for my first New Years Eve, where everyone had to wear red), and in the following years I added to the collection on my travels.

Now, at last, I have some decorations that actually remind me of places and happy times, and this year I’ve even had time to make a few things myself. Here are some of my favourites.

Icelandic felt bauble

Icelandic felt bauble

This is a felt bauble I bought in Reykjavik in November 2009, my birthday weekend. Christmas decorations in an Icelandic tourist shop cost an arm and a leg but I couldn’t resist buying some from there, right on the edge of the Arctic Circle!

Ampelman from Berlin

Ampelmann from Berlin

Earlier that year I went to Berlin, and was charmed by the Ampelmann, the quirky little silhouette used by the East Germans in their traffic lights (and is a useful way to remind yourself which part of the once-divided city you’re in, if you are a wandering tourist). I found these decorations in a tourist tat shop just near Checkpoint Charlie (this is the Green Man, but I obviously have the Red one too, to make sure they aren’t lonely).

Gisela Graham star

Gisela Graham star

This gingerbread Gisela Graham star was part of a set given to me by an old friend as a housewarming present and went on my first tree that year.

Canadian snowman

Canadian snowman

This cheeky snowman came from our holiday in Newfoundland in 2011. I think it was bought in the delightfully-named Rocky Harbour, where I ate cod tongues – don’t knock ’em till you’ve tried ’em – and partridgeberry pancakes.

Viennese rocking-horse

Viennese rocking-horse

Later that year, we went to Vienna for a weekend (last trip abroad pre-baby) and I bought this rocking-horse from the gift shop of the Spanish riding school (the one with the prancing white horses).

Wooden decoration from the National Gallery

Wooden decoration from the National Gallery

This wooden decoration came from the National Gallery shop in 2011 – we had gone to look at the Trafalgar Square tree, and with a bit of time to spare before, I’d gone into the gallery. I discovered to my surprise that nice decorations were already being reduced, before Christmas had even happened, so I snapped up some bargains. We went back again this year and found exactly the same thing – so that’s my London-insider shopping tip for Christmas, go to the National Gallery.

Home-made snowman

Home-made snowman

This is one of my new decorations in 2013 – made by me, using a kit from my Crafty Creatives Christmas box. I used items from the same kit to make the stocking below…

Home-made stocking

Home-made stocking

I also used the contents of my button box to decorate this felt tree.

Home-made tree

Home-made tree

Finally, I have to share with you what goes on the top of the tree: this is the one item which survives from my original silver and purple collection. Back then, I added a fluffy, sparkly felt fairy as an ironic touch to a sophisticated silver tree, but she fits in now with the new tree, with absolutely no irony at all. And the final tree tradition I have is that she gets added last of all.

Fairy on top of the tree

Fairy on top of the tree

I could go on writing about my tree decorations for hours more – I haven’t mentioned the squirrel and hedgehog, or the gingerbread house, or the baubles and bells (there are plenty of both), or all the things with heart motifs. Nor have I mentioned how some of my childhood tree decorations ended up on a BBC Wales News picture gallery last year, which was very exciting…because I do have to stop *somewhere*.

But I’ll finish with a picture of the tree itself, with small human in foreground, and a pledge to try and blog a bit more next year (promises, promises), and wish you a Merry Christmas & a very happy 2014.

Lovely tree

Lovely tree

Advertisements

A house becomes a home

As we approach Christmas, I keep remembering this time last year, when we were scrambling to pack up the old house and I was phoning the solicitor daily, pleading with her to try and get our contracts sorted so we’d have any kind of hope of moving before Christmas.

When we did manage to move just days before Christmas, it was a huge relief, not least because I could put up decorations and immediately make the house feel cosy and homely.

With no shelf space or mantelpiece to hang up cards, we improvised with string and clothes pegs, which looked surprisingly good…and leaving our tree-buying till the last minute meant we had to get an old-school needle dropping variety, with predictable messy results (it did smell properly Christmassy, though). It was an instant injection of colour and personality which the house badly needed – and when my own home-made wreath went up, I felt I’d already put my own small personal mark on the house.

Trying to make our house a home after Christmas was a bit more of a challenge, as it coincided with the baby becoming a toddler, and learning to crawl…and then walk…and climb. We hadn’t had to put anything out of reach at the old house, but it suddenly became a priority – and we didn’t have any fitted storage downstairs at all, so nothing could be shut away or put out of her reach unless we kept it boxed up and invisible.

So after the urgent work was done – electrics and boiler – we had some shelves fitted in the dining and sitting rooms. I am particularly fond of the dining room shelves, as they come into view as you walk down the stairs, and the clutter which has accumulated there over the last few months makes me feel at home.

DIning room shelves

Dining room shelves – a bit wonky!

The shelves started out with some of my favourite ornaments on the lower shelves – the Australian boomerang, the Chinese fan, my Silver Jubilee mug, my teapot – but small hands soon began to grab at these, so we had to do a bit of rejigging.

The bottom shelf now has children’s books and a crate of Duplo, and the breakable items, including some of my favourite vintage pieces, have moved higher and higher up, as the toddler learnt how to scramble up onto the sofa to reach the second and even third shelves. They are now a pleasing jumble of books, china, ornaments and children’s toys, and I like them all the more for that.

Living room shelves - left of chimney breast

Living room shelves – left of chimney breast

The sitting room shelves are on either side of the non-functioning chimney breast, and to quote Anthony Powell, confirm that ‘books do furnish a room’. In a rather dull, characterless room like this, (and also long and narrow, an unhelpful shape for a living room), books add depth and colour, and some much-needed noise absorption. The room felt rather bleak and echoey before, and now, with curtains pulled and the Advent candle lit, it’s cosy and snug.

The shelves also provide a good dumping ground for things we want to keep out of the toddler’s way – remote controls, fiddly toys which she would lose pieces of, and now various Christmas bits and bobs too. The carpenter even built the right-hand shelf around a pillar, which created dinky little alcoves just big enough to take our clock and a few other ornaments.

The lower half of the sitting room may be – and usually is – a tidal wave of toys, discarded shoes and board books, but at least I can look at my lovely shelves and feel quite at home.

It also reminds me of previous places I’ve lived, and how the most unlikely things can make you feel settled. I remember the housing association flat in SE1, where I had no furniture to speak of and had to sit on a futon mattress with no base, far more fondly than the grand Georgian flat in Kensington where the blocked-up marble fireplace had been lined, interestingly, with corrugated plastic.

I don’t have photos of either of those flats – the days before digital cameras and smart phones – but I do have a few of the cutest, dinkiest flat I ever lived in, on the first floor of a handsome mansion block in Bloomsbury. There wasn’t space to swing a cat, but I loved it.

It was the first place I’d ever lived properly on my own, and it became my retreat from the world during days when work had become dreary and I was rather lonely. The living room was particularly snug and dark, like a little she-bear cave, and it had a lovely deep mantelpiece which I piled high with nick nacks and scented candles and the like, so I decided what it really needed was pink fluffy fairy lights to complete the look.

Bloomsbury mantelpiece

Bloomsbury mantelpiece

I justified this utterly uncharacteristic girliness on the grounds I’d probably never live anywhere else suitable for pink fluffy fairy lights – and so indeed has been the case.

Making a family home from a rather ordinary house has been a challenge all of its own, and I’ve had to learn to dial down my love of pretty objects and scented candles, so I’ve given away the fairy lights – there simply isn’t room for so much clutter. And will there be room for a decent sized Christmas tree? That’s the next task ahead of us…