‘My name is Ryan’
‘Hi, Ryan!’ reply the group in unison.
‘My name is Ryan and I have an artificial Christmas tree.’
Small round of applause. A couple of embarrassed coughs.
‘I have had an artificial Christmas tree for five years now…’
Mention to somebody that you have an artificial Christmas tree and, unless the person you’re talking to also has one, the response is, ‘Oh, God, you hateful, pointless, pathetic bastard.’ Or words to that effect.
There isn’t much love for fake trees. There isn’t much love for fake anything. Everything has to now give the illusion of being real. Just look at the adverts: Natural flavours, natural ingredients, natural goodness, natural, real, natural, real, natural… Everyone is in on the act. Cadbury’s Dairy Milk has forty-six pints of fresh cow’s milk in. McDonalds chickens are reared on a farm that resembles Blake’s vision of heaven. Motor cars pump out fairy dust. I’ve even got a can of shaving foam with a picture of a fucking tree on it. We’re permitted to like artificial things on the condition that we do so ironically, or if you label it a guilty pleasure. Well, let me say it now, I adore my big fake Argos Christmas tree. I love its perfect shape, height and sturdiness. I even love the way it sheds the occasional papery pine needle onto the carpet.
Here is the main argument for not having an artificial tree: ‘Oh, but they don’t have that lovely Christmas tree smell!’
Anybody who owns an artificial tree will know that this simply isn’t true. Granted they don’t smell exactly the same as a real tree, but they have an equally beautiful festive scent. As I put mine up this year, one of the branches (I think it was branch D5 – maybe F3 or B7) brushed against my face. It smelt divine. A cross between tinsel and the Christmas section of a garden centre.
I grew up in a world of synthesis. My life has been built around it. It doesn’t bother me that the air freshener I spray around my lounge contains none of the natural goodness of the ‘Wild Summer Orchard’ displayed on the front of the can. I’m not ashamed that I can occasionally be thrown into despair at the aroma of Pledge polish because it reminds me of the home of a lost love. (‘Brand New from Pledge: Wild Winter Heartbreak.’) I could not care less that the packet of Steak & Onion crisps I had with my lunch yesterday had never been within a country mile of a real cow – or even a real onion. The list goes on. The strawberry in my soap isn’t real strawberry. The cherry on my cake isn’t a real cherry. The radio in my kitchen isn’t real company. Scarlett Johansson’s face doesn’t have a real nose on it. It all affects me not one jot.
When a tree is up, when the room is dark and when the fairy lights are flicked on at the wall, it doesn’t matter whether the tree was grown in Hampshire or factory packed in the Guangdong Province. Yes, they may have a different fragrance, but here’s one thing, Argos trees never smell of cat wee at the base. Real ones occasionally do. And you know it.
Every family has a box of decorations that means more than all other boxes of decorations combined. They’re full of trinkets from the lightest pockets of memory – usually an angel made out of pasta in a Primary School craft lesson in 1991 or a strange drawing of Father Christmas (with a green beard and a head three times bigger than his body) with a library-card-sized calendar glued to the bottom at a clumsy angle. Hanging such treasures on the tree is an operation worthy of a trained conservationist. It’s like handling the earliest surviving copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio. The slightest fumbling can consign a decoration to history.
Even the box that the old decorations live in is cherished. If you catch a glimpse of it in the summer, whilst doing something mundane like looking for a duvet cover, it transports you frantically back and forth to Christmasses past and yet to come. The box at my mum’s house is a Frazzles box from a time when Frazzles were new kids on the block, in crisp eating circles (i.e. some time around the sinking of the Belgrano). I only need to see a flash of the Frazzles box and I’m in the mood.
I miss dangerous tree decorations. Where have they all gone? What happened to those finger shredding glass baubles that your dad warned you not to touch? The lights that hummed when you switched them on at the wall? The pink sugar mice that could give you heart disease just by looking at them?
The Christmases of my childhood were made more thrilling by a set of glass baubles which had a kind of deadly inverted concave that simply invited my fleshy, investigative little fingers in. Whenever my sister and I went within five metres of them my dad would shout, ‘DON’T TOUCH THE BAUBLES! THEY’LL RIP YOUR HANDS OFF!’ Considering the risk he felt the baubles posed us, it’s surprising he brought them into the house in the first place. It was as though he’d invited a wolf to live with us for a couple of weeks.
That’s all for now, my dears. Happy Christmas to you all. Be sure to eat, drink and be merry. And if you walk past an artificial tree, why not stop and give it a little sniff?