Christmas has come in a bit of whirl to our house. Thanksgiving was barely over, the knives and forks hardly dried, the pumpkins and wheat sheaf display (the urban cornucopia) still sitting outside the door, when the whole family is suddenly putting up the Christmas tree, a Noble fir, Bing Crosby crooning gently in the background, as if he'd never stopped.
The Maharishi and Minky do the lights first, winding them tight to the trunk, so that the tree shimmers with inner light (this is the Maharishi's theory) and then N & I bring down the enormous red and green plastic boxes which we keep in the attic, containing all our Christmas decorations, from years and years gone by -- some falling apart, some chewed by the dog, who was only a puppy last year, and some just so hideous they really have to be thrown out -- and start to unwrap them, one by one. The paper towels in which they're wrapped have been around since 1988 when we had our first tree in our little apartment and N was just a twinkle in his father's eye.
Our tree looks like it belongs in a shop that sells ornaments. It is positively groaning with mish-mash of silver balls, red ribbons, paper and glitter ornaments handmade by the children, things I've bought over the years (mostly in the animal family) and large and garish glass ornaments (mostly given to me by old clients). Garish isn't necessarily a bad thing, however, at Christmas time. There is a level of kitsch in the canyon which perhaps only Americans can fully appreciate. King Neptune and the Little Princess nestle nicely into the branches while the Prince gazes wistfully from above. I do draw the line at flocking, though.
Our Angel was decapitated by the puppy last year and so this year instead of a star or an angel, we have a gingerbread reindeer, made of brown felt, with artisanal stitching, topping the tree. There is a particularly awful angel, one of the Disney Princess variety, with flowing blonde locks and a royal blue flowing gown, that I found in the box, but I hid her when no-one was looking.
My problem is that I keep everything: Sprigs of fake holly from present boxes, purple baubles from Nieman Marcus (where the gift wrap is always more elaborate and more expensive than the gift), tiny pictures of dogs who've died, memorialized each year at Christmas time, and snowflake-shaped plastic frames decorated in red glitter with a picture of my son, age 3, with a terrible pudding bowl hair cut and a pained expression on his face. "M-e-r-r-y-C-h-r-i-s-t-m-a-s" it says in sparkles. I love it so. I hold it to my breast and weep.
Then there are stuffed toys, you know, the teddys and the badgers and the penguins, sensibly dressed in a warm Norwegian-style winter pullover and a jaunty bobble hat. I confess to not remembering where they come from, but still they come out of the box every year, dressed for the weather. They have to be placed at three feet or higher because they become a constant temptation for the lesser spotted, no longer a puppy, but prone to puppy-like wide-eyed joy (not unlike me) at the sight of the tree. She has chewed up one ornament already -- a stuffed brown felt gingerbread lady with pigtails, a companion to the gingerbread reindeer who tops the tree (a Laplander, perhaps?). Her lifeless body, head a-kimbo, was found in the dog's mouth, who seemed giddily thrilled with herself. "Baaaaad" I said in my deepest, most scary voice, "baaaad girrrrrl" (I roll my Rs when talking to the dogs, it's the only time I allow an American accent into my life, but the American pronunciation of the word "girl" is particularly pleasing to me). The poor thing looked quite worried and put her head down in shame. I felt awful. But for two days, she didn't touch another thing and made a point of giving the tree a wide berth when passing it. This was all blown on Tuesday night. I came home and the little spotted dog was so happy to see me that she came running in, tail wagging furiously, with a stuffed otter dressed in red winter cardigan in her mouth, a gift (who wouldn't want an otter in a red cardigan?)
Tonight, the Christmas festivities continue, even though secretly I'm listening to O Come O Come Emmanuel and other favorite Advent hymns (I always enjoyed as a child the minor chords and hand-wringing of the Advent hymns, Christmas carols being lovely of course, but often too jubilant, except for on Christmas morning when O Come Let Us Adore Him rings from highest steeple of my limited vocal chords) with the office party. If this immediately conjurs up Scranton, NJ, or Slough if you're British, cast those thoughts asunder. The Maharishi's office is a lovely bunch of people, all terrifically bright & engaging, and I'm rather looking forward to making my first mince pies of the year. My friend Day is bringing canolis, which are also very Christmassy -- I imagine them sprinkled with powdered sugar, bits of bright red glace cherries and green anjelica. Although I am massively tempted by Nigella's Boozy British Trifle from her new book, Nigella Christmas.
The menu includes a standing rib roast of beef which the M will do on his beloved smoker ("Honey, it's not a party if it's not smoked") and I've found some rather nice chanterelles for a sauce to go with that. Also butternut squash & barley orzotto, my favorite Ottolenghi green beans and sugar snap peas with orange & hazlenut, gratineed potatoes, and a green salad with Meyer lemon, thinly sliced onions and pomegranate. And of course, the terrifically kitsch and crowd-pleasing roumaki.