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There’s no putting it off, no burying your head in the sand.  It’s time.

Reach into the back of the narrow cupboard, scrabble determinedly among the boxes of forgotten essentials – those things you swore you couldn’t live without, ten years ago; untouched since then, save in the cause of this one annual mission.

No, no you don’t want them – the sandwich toaster is probably too rusty to be considered hygienic now, those surgical stockings have a vaguely unsavoury air, and the  collapsible Zimmer frame – well, that never was a good idea.

No, these boxes, these deeply buried caskets of history; these are what you seek.  Entombed within them are the recorded embarrassments of a decade, the memories of a generation.

Out they must come, regardless of strained shoulders, moted eyes or shattered nerves:  out, damned reindeer onesie with the indelible stain of wine; out, festive sweater with the moth- perforated sleeves!  Let the dusty sepulchres disgorge their gold and silver glittery guts and the green and tangled wires display their tiny coloured bulbs for one more desperate, plaintive display.  Bring forth the coloured balls, the battered seraphim with their trumpets bent, the dangly gleamers and the strangly streamers.

It is Christmas.

The halls must be decked with holly, the windows sprayed with sticky snow.  The innocent spruce you murdered in its infancy must be nailed to that special piece of wood left in the garden by mistake.  Woodlice, unhomed, seeking cover beneath your couch must wait for the plate of minced pies laid carelessly upon the floor.   Impaled now, the tree’s sad corpse shall be shrouded in precious colours and gaily flickering lights, and though it may be no more than a skeleton by the Great Day, only sad needles piled about its feet will bear witness to its decomposition.

The fairy, of course, is greatest and last.  Poor Gladys, though.   Strapped by her knickers each year for twenty years to as many different treetops, will her stoicism survive another season of goodwill?

As you perform the ritual do you catch her eye, are you touched by a savourimagesBDDUCP91 of her suffering? You wonder, does she share your festive spirit?

Yet custom must be observed:  your tree bejewelled before the speculative eye of the cat, food prepared before the ravenous dreamings of the dog.   Ladders must be climbed, curses uttered, A & E Departments attended. all in the name of the Winterfest, and there is no alternative, save social ostracism and offspring misery.  Stomachs may grumble, purses may squeak and balloons may pop;  you may even need a second mortgage, but you must conform.  You must endure ten hours of  Grandpa’s explanation of chaos theory  as it affects brussels sprouts, Grandma’s nostalgic belief that things were better ‘in the war’, cousin Tom’s vicious racism and Sister-in Law Bernice’s outrageous capacity for Sangria.   Yes, it is Christmas!

And when the day is past – when the tree lies where Grandpa fell on it, the dog has returned most of its turkey titbits to the Persian rug and Bernice has finally stopped snoring:  when that ludicrously expensive early learning toy stands neglected in a corner while your youngest is upstairs playing happily with the box –

“He’ll grow into it.”

When Tom’s fourth Def Leppard CD has at last run its course, then you can relax upon the dry part of your couch and be satisfied you have done your part.  You might spare a thought for Gladys thankfully limping back into obscurity, but your dreams will be all of repacking boxes.

Compliments of the season, everyone!