The tree of life

My Mum started it.  I was young and impressionable, and we were on a painful cycling holiday in Germany when she took us to a Christmas decoration shop.  It was the middle of the summer, horribly hot with more bugs in the air than I knew the names for.  But we came away with a couple of festive souvenirs, neither of which I could identify now, though the seed had been planted.

My Christmas decorating tactics when at university mainly involved tinsel.  I’ve never been a big fan of the stuff on trees, but when you live in a flat or house which is mainly corridors and banisters, it begins to make sense.  As one housemate once put it, “it looks like Christmas threw up in here” – I was delighted that, at the time, we lived in an enormous house, which I’d decided could “handle” a huge amount of glittery strings.

I’ve never really had my own tree, as I’ve chosen instead to wait until I’m back at the family home (which I’ve managed for every Christmas) to really enjoy a traditional tree (I do own a three-foot baby pink tree, bought mainly as it was incredibly cheap).  My family aren’t allowed to decorate the tree without me, and if I live away, I make time to return a few weeks prior to Christmas in order to put the tree up.  Because I, too, have started something: I’m building a collection of ornaments.  The pace has picked up since I’ve begun travelling more for pleasure – I now ensure that I don’t return home from a significant trip without a new decoration for my future trees.  Until I get my own home and family, they’ll hang on my parents’ tree, to remind me where I’ve been.  These are their stories…

London 2012 ornaments
When I first saw these at Spirit of Christmas in 2012, I didn’t know whether to fall in love or be appalled.  I didn’t think they could possibly be genuine, as I couldn’t imagine LOCOG licensing such a product… but they did, and they were.  I snapped up two of London 2012’s mascots for the trees of my future – one is in traditional Beefeater dress, the other is (of course) an ice-skating Santa.  When I posted a photo of them on Instagram, a friend who was similarly mourning the loss of the Olympics was desperate to know where I got them, and when I gave her the name of the supplier, immediately bought a set online.  2014 will see Wenlock and Mandeville grace our tree for the third time, as their manufacturers enjoy a prime spot in Fortnum and Mason’s Christmas shop.  Olympic legacy via Christmas decorations – something LOCOG should be proud of.

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The ruby slipper
Of all the things available to stare at in Washington DC, one which I couldn’t possibly miss was the ruby slippers at the Museum of American History.  The Wizard of Oz is still one of my favourite movies, so in 2013 I duly made my pilgrimage to see the famous shoes.  Sadly, they don’t make them big enough for my Yeti-sized trotters, but the Smithsonian do sell ruby slipper ornaments, and my collection immediately expanded.

Festive lobster
Amongst the weird and wonderful everythings of New Orleans, I spied something so perfect that I laughed out loud.  As well as proudly proclaiming it’s birthplace, this piece involves an appropriately-attired lobster playing the saxophone.  Of course.  But it also pays homage to one of the best pieces of dialogue in The Best Christmas Movie ever.

Viva Las Christmas
Another destination on my 2013 road trip, another certainty of finding glitzy tat.  There was a selection of typical options in Las Vegas, but rather than choose my favourite one, I selected the one which best commemorated my first visit – the hotel my friend and I stayed in is represented here, and a small piece of the Strip occupies a branch on my tree.

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Wreathed lighthouse
Ptown, Cape Cod, isn’t really about subtlety, so there’s a certain irony in the simplicity of this piece.  Eva and I spent two lovely days on and around the Cape this summer, and once we reached the end of our trek, she enjoyed Ptown as much as I did.  My criteria for decorations isn’t that they must be tacky – it’s that they should represent the place they’re from, as well as being obviously festive (so it’s not enough that an ornament is able to hang from a tree, it must also be clearly Christmassy).  The wreath is key here, otherwise it’d just be a (admittedly lovely) porcelain lighthouse.

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The one which didn’t make it
“Wouldn’t it be great,” Eva and I said, perhaps a little tipsily, “if, when we’re in Hawaii, we find a Christmas decoration which marries Hawaii and Christmas?  Something like, I don’t know, Santa in a grass skirt?”  Well, of course somebody had already thought of that.  I delighted in scrolling through the Santa’s Pen website whilst we waited at an airport for a flight.  When we made it to the store in Honolulu, I was agog at the choice, and eventually plumped for Santa, in said grass skirt, enjoying a drink in a hammock.  The sales assistant wrote “Mele Kalikimaka” (Merry Christmas) on it for me… and I promptly lost my purchase, but only realised the night before we were due to leave.  After the shop had closed.  And we left before it opened.  And they don’t ship internationally.  Heartbroken doesn’t even begin to cover it, but at least I have an excuse for a second visit to Oahu someday…

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Spoilt for choice
Berlin was bound to be tough: Germany is famously festive, with Christmas markets galore if you travel in November.  We went in October, and in the major cities, you’re always going to find it a little tricky to find something more unique and less mass-produced.  So I compromised, and made a trip to the highly-commercial Kathe Wohlfahrt.  I spent a long time selecting my ornaments, and came away with just two, both of which appealed to my horsey side.  The girl on the hobby horse is unpopular in our house already, but I couldn’t resist this miniature mirror into my childhood.  And the little deer-at-the-manger scene is simple but beautifully detailed – hopefully you can see the tiny strands of hay in the feeder.  Along with the lighthouse, they will make their debut on the tree in 2014.

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I’m not sure how many more ornaments I’ll get the chance to buy over the years, but I enjoy having an eclectic and non-matchy tree: whenever I see a shot of a tree on Facebook or Instagram, where the poor thing has been swathed in traditional glitzy baubles and trussed up with ribbons (why?!  Ribbons are for gifts!), I shake my head, turn to look at my traveller’s tree, and look forward to sharing the stories even more.  Because “I went to Homebase and picked out things which were on three for two” just isn’t interesting.

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