Craft Advent: Day 22: A Christmas Story

By the SKIN of my teeth I've managed to post today's #CraftAdvent2015. It's 10pm and it's the first time I've sat down all day! The extremely patient Karen from Beating Myself Into A Dress is my guest of honour today with something quite different to the rest of this series. She's sharing a hilarious story of Christmas past and if writing is a craft (which it totally is) then she is quite the expert. So settle down now with a glass or a mug of something yummy and let this be your bedtime story!

WHEN I was a kid ours was always the last house on our road to put up the Christmas tree - Dad didn't believe in decorating until Mary was almost ready to push.

Day after day we'd press our pinched little faces up against the windows of our neighbours watching in fascination as they strung lights and hung tacky delightful foil chains from the ceiling.

Every year Dad would eke it out a little longer, even by just a day, just to tease us, so we'd never know when it was coming. One year he got almost as far as Christmas Eve before Mam cracked and stepped in.

On the day that he decided that it was time to put up the tree, the excitement in our house reached peak hysteria by about 10am.

First Dad would be dispatched off in the van to get the tree, from his favourite supplier in the carpark of the Kilnamanagh Shopping Centre. He refused to go anywhere else and took great pleasure in beating down the price. I'm sure the chap running the stall used to hate to see him coming. In later years I believe he used to just give Dad the tree for nothing, it was easier than standing there arguing over 50 pence with him.
Then, his job done, Dad would return home, take root in his favourite armchair and supervise the actual work being carried out.

"Left a bit, lookit, the tinsel is falling off there," he'd growl, sucking furiously on the ever-present John Player Blue hanging from his mouth.

"Put that bauble higher up, it's too heavy for that branch. No, not there! There! I said there! Jaysis!"

Oh it was great fun (the sarcasm is strong in this one). Anyway, eventually the tree would be put up to his satisfaction, my brother would be forced up on a chair to string the tacky delightful foil chains from the ceiling and the house would be ready.

One year, the stand holding the Christmas tree broke at the last minute and there was no time to find another. Dad went out to the shed and rummaged around for a few minutes before returning triumphantly with an old plastic beer crate that had been lurking among the spiders.

He put this filthy, broken, evil-smelling yoke up proudly on my mother's pristine kitchen table and told us to wash it off and then cover it in Christmas paper; he'd then jam the trunk of the tree into one of the holes and Bob's your uncle, a perfect Christmas tree holder.

Be grand.

It wasn't grand.

It wasn't grand at all.

There must have been a bumper crop of Christmas trees that year because the tree was twice as big as normal, brushing the ceiling and taking up most of the sitting room. There was no way that tree was going to fit into that beer crate, but determined not to show any weakness Dad persevered until he had thrust the hacked off, broken tree trunk into the straining splintering beer crate.

"Look at it there, perfect, it's PERFECT," he said, sweating, gesturing to the tree teetering precariously in the corner.

What could possibly go wrong?

Back in those days a fella used to call door-to-door selling insurance policies and every Monday he'd call to us, collect the money and sit on the sofa to fill in his ledger. He didn't have a name, everyone just called him The Insurance Man. I don't think clerks like that exist anymore, most people pay for their insurance online or by direct debit, but that's how it used to be done, round our way anyway.

The day after the 'tree-shoved-into-a-beer-crate' debacle, the Insurance Man showed up at the door and sat down as usual to get the paperwork done, while Mam went into to the kitchen to get the money for him. When she returned, the world seemed to tilt on its axis as she watched, almost in slow motion, as the Christmas tree came tumbling down right on top of the poor divil with an almighty smack.

Every single decoration flew off the branches under the weight of the unusually enormous tree, spinning across the room and smashing into the wall opposite, every strand of tinsel came loose and the poor fairy at the top of the tree, well, let's just say she still hasn't recovered.

And that's to say nothing of the poor Insurance Man, buried underneath all that mess - it was like the Pine bloody Forest in there for a few minutes.

Eventually Mam managed to free the poor bloke from under the avalanche of destruction and then like every good Irish Mammy she covered her mortification by pretending nothing had happened.

"You're grand, you're grand, good man. Now! Have you got everything? See you next week so!"

Needless to say, Dad never heard the end of it. He spent WEEKS nervously creeping around the house, wearing a hunted look, hissing 'Don't annoy your mother' out of the side of his mouth at us.

Eventually though it became something we laughed (a lot) about and we tell this story every year. Despite that mishap and despite his bluster, Dad loved Christmas, to him it really was the most wonderful time of the year and he made it so for us, as well.

Dad has passed away now, he died almost three years ago and while we miss him every day, it's somehow more acute at Christmas, knowing how much he loved it.

That first year, after he died, we barely celebrated Christmas at all - it was too raw, too hard. But the tree went up the same as normal, he wouldn't have had it any other way.

Now that I'm putting up my own tree, with my own son, the ritual has become less about Christmas and more about an homage to Dad, another way to remember him. Minus the battered Insurance Man, sadly.

So Merry Christmas to you all - and may all your Christmas trees be stable.

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