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Letters from the Atlantic: The Non-Designer Christmas Tree

Letters from the Atlantic: The Non-Designer Christmas Tree

17_DesignerTree02We are often told that “design is everything” and it is certainly true that if a product is appealing to the eye, functional and works as intended, sales may react accordingly. Black Friday, Cyber Monday and all the other pre-Christmas nonsense aside, I enjoy looking at Christmas trees and decorations. Stepping inside a shopping centre, large stores and small shops can be a feast to the eye with beautifully designed, co-ordinated Christmas trees adorned with bows, balls and tinsel.

On December 6 each year, our Christmas tree appears for the festive season. Those who see our tree will probably think it is anything but colour coordinated or carefully designed. It is a cacophony of colour, with decorations made from a wide variety of materials, and of all different shapes and sizes. Some of the decorations span well into the previous century since they have been handed down over several generations. Our tree represents a lifetime of our own personal memories, as well as from those who have gone before us. The oldest item is a sugar biscuit, which I was told used to adorn my great grandparents’ Christmas tree.

We do not call our tree a Christmas tree, but a ‘Memory Tree’. The beginning of our Christmas is careful decoration of the tree, recalling what the various items mean to us, where they came from and what has happened to the people who gave us the ornaments or small trinkets; it can be a lengthy process only interrupted by the odd mince pie and glass of our favourite malt whisky. Family, friends past and present, neighbours, gifts from pupils, colleagues, as well as items that my partner and I have collected over many years together find a place on the ‘Memory Tree’. If we have not collected anything together during the year on our travels, we make a point of buying a small item before Christmas that means something special to both of us.

The usual baubles that I remember hanging on our family tree as a child with my mother, are now joined by glass angels, a distinctive blue and white Delft bear from Amsterdam, a china gondola from Venice, a wooden tram carriage from San Francisco, which contrast with a white swan beautifully made from a length of white ribbon by an elderly lady who visited my school weekly to help pupils with their reading. There are toy bears and knitted robins made by past pupils, a giraffe from South Africa, together with several beautiful toys, intended for a charity sale, made by my partner’s mother. The last, and particularly special item to be added to the top of our ‘Memory Tree’ is a rather worse-for-wear fairy, given to me by my favourite aunt for my first Christmas. Some would refer to the collection of bits and pieces on our ‘Memory Tree’ as ‘clutter’, but they are the ones who do not know the many stories that each represents.  ‘Designer’ it certainly is not, nor is there an ornate bow to be seen.

One of the most poignant memories this year will be hanging a beautiful decoration on the tree given to us by a close friend who died earlier this year. When he gave it to us, he knew that it would be his last Christmas. His final visit to our home was when he arrived just before Christmas clutching a small, beautifully wrapped box. We could see that buying it had given him great pain and effort in travelling to his favourite store. As usual with our friend, it was a gift well chosen. As he handed it to us, he said very little, but we knew that it was his last gift to us – a beautiful memory of him for the future.

With Black Friday and Cyber Monday now behind us, it is time for us to enjoy Christmas in our own special ways. We all have unique ways of celebrating the Christmas season. For some it will be for its religious significance, for others it will time for a good ‘booze up’, eating far too much food and partying with friends, and others will be enjoying a quiet time with their families. However, many people will be on their own, either through choice or because they have no one to share the holiday season with. I hope that they, in particular, will use their memories from happier times to comfort and sustain them through what can be a painful time of the year. However you choose to enjoy the Christmas season, may it be one that creates many happy memories for the future.

Barrie Mahoney was a head teacher and school inspector in the UK, as well as a reporter in Spain, before moving to the Canary Islands to launch and edit a new English language newspaper. He enjoys life in the sun as a columnist and author, and continues to write a series of popular novels, books for expats, as well as designing mobile apps and websites to promote the Canary Islands.

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: and or read his book, ‘Expat Voice’ (ISBN: 9780992767174). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle, iBooks and Google Play editions.

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