Frivolous Monsters

Not Quite the Christmas – Part 01

I love Christmas and from childhood it’s always been a very traditional affair with the week leading to New Year being a quiet time living off leftovers. In recent years the tradition has been whittled down, but even so this was not quite the Christmas I was expecting.Old Christmas Lights

In our family Christmas has never been about buying a new tree every year, but getting the old one down from the roof and ceremonially decorating it with ancient glass baubles and the old faithful tinsel that has the wonderfully musty smell of boxed family custom. There’s the same bugling angel for the top of the tree, and the old clunky seventies lights that my parents probably bought for their first Christmas together, and this has been a tradition that I have fought to maintain. 

As the second law of thermodynamics should have told me – decay within a system being prevalent over time – it was a battle I could not hope to win, and as my own law of physics showed: the increase in the number of cats in a house, over time, is in an inverse proportion to the survival of traditional Christmas decorations.

The linking cardboard reindeer hanging over the fireplace soon became a target, the delicate glass baubles became something to bop, the tinsel and the fairy lights cable something to chew, and the assembled plastic tree became a climbing frame. And bit by bit, despite my protestations, these elements were stripped away until all that remained of any sign of Christmas in our house was a desolate reminder relegated to the new porch as if it were a token shop window display.

And then this year with the porch in use to separate bullied cats I was finally on the ropes and prepared to accept that the days of traditional decorations were over. Punch drunk I was therefore ambivalent as my parents announced they’d been shopping and unveiled a lurid-coloured miniature fibre optic tree, concealed under the fireguard, before the knockout blow when I was led outside to be shown that the wooden trellis arch was now a tunnel of red flashing lights looking like a warning to aircraft.

Despite my incredulity I was so worn down and jaded by the years of attrition that I skipped over the usual responses of “What?” or “Why?” and instead, as this was hidden away in our back garden, I went with “Who? Who is this for?” I’m now guessing that when our foxes turned up during the night we were set to be greeted with a sight akin to a John Lewis Christmas advert.John Lewis ChristmasIn town Santa’s murky grotto is still decorated on the perimeter by dancing robo-penguins and the only difference this year seems to be that all the Elves were press-ganged into wearing horrible identical pink wigs. Aside from dealing with the grubby financial side of matters I noticed that they were also working at the coalface of mollifying queuing children in the presence of a sign explaining away periodic closures: “Father Christmas has gone to feed his reindeer”.

We all know the man has no reindeer.

We all know it’s a euphemism.

And we all know it involves a man in a fur-trimmed felt suit clasping his genitals.

Santas Grotto Bury This little arrangement can only be an improvement from two years back when I clocked the big man knocking off at the end of the day as the shopping centre was closing. Now I can’t say what went on behind the grotto’s velvet curtain, and I can’t swear it was down to him, but as he was mobbed by some older teenagers there was a hefty stench of urine in the air… and somewhere inside I imagined that a two-litre bottle of warm apple juice went unloved.

The most nostalgic Christmas decorations I found this year were in Costa Coffee on one of their Festive Fridays – all Santa hats, woolly jumpers, and glitter – where they had some bizarre mince pie giveaway going where, due to the complicated small print which included the requirement for the purchaser had to be wearing a Christmas jumper, they’d successfully given away exactly zero mince pies.

The best-dressed Barista had carved herself Michael Jackson shoulder pads from a takeaway cup and atop her head she wore an illuminated thorny crown of heavy-duty nineteen-seventies Christmas tree lights. At last I’d found my traditional idea of Christmas.

To alleviate my concern for her health and safety she flashed me a look down the front of her jumper to assure me, somehow, that she wasn’t plugged in, but only on batteries. I later saw the manager handing her twenty AAs under the mistletoe. I imagine that she probably sparks in the misty twilight when she has to go out and clear up after the smokers.

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23 thoughts on “Not Quite the Christmas – Part 01

  1. Hilarious, and now you have me wondering just how many cats are in your house! You’ve also reminded me of Christmas long ago, and just how much damage one 8 week old puppy can do to a live tree.

    • Thanks. We now have eleven. Or ten-and-a-half if you take into account my boy. My Mum and Dad have done some breeding and so numbers have swelled with the occasional one that had to be hand-reared and thus they couldn’t bare to part with. Finding the three-legged cat at the bottom of the garden was an odd bonus.

      As it’s now been put in their will that I’ll end up looking after then I have strongly stressed: No more!

      p.s. Christmas was only downhill from here! I will post that shortly.

      • 11?! Wow! The most I’ve had at one time is 4. (Not counting the year I spent working for the Humane Society where I was the live-on-site manager for one of their rehabilitation centers which housed 100+ cats, and 40+ dogs.)

        I remember the three-legged cat, that was one of my favorite posts of yours. Looking forward the next part!

    • I do tell them to make the most of me whilst I’m here – I presume I’m not going to be here for ever – as they can go on holiday and leave me looking after them. Bit of an issue without me here. They have put them all in some sort of cattery once a number of years ago, for my brother’s wedding, but it must have been a nightmare.

      They are a handful to look after on my own, but then that must be nothing compared to what you put up with after the hurricane with all them. As I must have said before I couldn’t have done that.

      And considering the three-legged cat must’ve turned up when we probably had ten already then it’s another good reason why he shouldn’t have been adopted here. But he overcame that hurdle too. He gets a nice picture in the next post, but not for a nice reason.

  2. We have a ‘real’ Christmas tree every year and, even though we have baubles from when my girls were tiny, they come out along with new ones that catch my eye and so, each year, the Christmas tree needs to be bigger. I have stopped bedecking the rest of the house so much though in order to balance things out. The most populated with animals we have been is four (large) dogs and four cats – but none of them have ever messed with the tree with any serious intent although we did once have a cat that swallowed a piece of lametta (that thin, ribbon like shiny stuff) and it passed through his system but not quickly enough so we were treated to the sight of him walking around for a whole day with it trailing from his back end.
    Happy New Year btw.

    • Thanks. I think the tree must be the least traditional part that we had, as I can remember a few. For a few years we did have a real one, but I am much happier pulling the plastic one down that’s lasted many years and assembling it from its many parts. I have a friend who gets his tree every year straight from the forest. Always seemed a little cruel to me.

      I know people are very different, but then I am a very traditional looking backwards sort of person, with a hoarding bent, but then we need people like you to drag us forward into the future.

      We have some cats that aren’t trouble. My three-legged boy doesn’t chew wires, but then some can’t keep away and will eat plastic bags. It’s like drugs to them and they cannot stop!

      And we had (have?) lametta too. Although for many years I did not know that it was called that.

  3. 11 cats? You could have built some kind of multi-tiered, tree shaped, cat scratching post, dressed all the cats in festive jumpers and encouraged them to be their own Xmas tree!

    I am of the keep it ’til it dies Xmas decoration school too. The Xmas tree is all about tradition and attracting Santa and his swag of pressies, it’s not all about being shiny and new.

    As you can imagine that means our tree is hardly the polished specimen worthy of a magazine spread, the style is a haphazard collection of old baubles, scrappy tinsel and things made by the kids over the years. Of course the tree wouldn’t be ‘our tree’ if it was all nice and shiny!

    • Our tree has to be assembled with many different bits. Not all that still work. And when it was inserted in the porch the back end was missing so it could fit into the right angle of the corner. It sounds like your Christmas tradition is very similar to how mine was… Hold onto it for as long as you can… or until the kids leave!

      I find your mention of “festive jumpers” of interest as one of the American bloggers ( has recently covered the bizarre UK Christmas traditions I just took for granted without thinking it was odd to the outsider. They included paper hats from crackers, our Christmas TV, Christmas pudding, Christingles, John Lewis adverts, Father Christmas’ modus operandi, Pantomime, Brussels Sprouts, the phrase Happy Christmas, Christmas Number Ones…

      I had wondered it Christmas jumpers were a solitary UK tradition too… but then thinking again I can’t imagine when the weather would ever be cold enough for you to need a jumper at Christmas!

  4. Thanks for that link, until this very moment I thought that Xmas pudding, crackers with hats (and trinkets and bad jokes), stockings at the end of the bed and Xmas tv specials were all prerequisites for celebrating the season in the civilised world.

    It can’t possibly be Xmas until we have moaned over the bad jokes, swapped useless trinkets for the slightly less useless one of the person across the table and I have eaten enough shortbread and Christmas pud with custard to make myself sick. We have more marzipan than is really necessary and often a game of backyard cricket to make space for the next course. Xmas in Australia is quite similar to your Xmas although the weather influences the meal and the wardrobe!

    I will be dragging out the tradition of Xmas as long as possible, the only thing I would change is a smaller tree as our house could use all the free space it can get!

    • I was genuinely interested to read Carmen’s comments as to how she found a scene in some film puzzling, as to why we were all wearing paper hats without embarrassment, as you just assume things are universal until someone points out they’re not.

      And the Doctor Who Christmas Special did feature Christmas crackers this year, sadly without jokes, so I guess it’s helping to spread the word in America. Interesting to hear that Australia is very similar, just when I was assuming that it wouldn’t be.

      I commented on Carmen’s page about Christmas TV specials as I found out recently why the BBC always does very well at Christmas. It’s because the channels paid for by adverts have advertisers that don’t care about Christmas day, as the spending has finished. I guess this would transfer to why Christmas specials aren’t as common on American TV.

  5. Thanks for your plug of my British Christmas traditions series. It was a challenge to get one in everyday and a joy to research. And the corny jokes are indeed my favorite element of the cracker experience as well!

    • I enjoyed that. Although I now have been told above that we have overlap with Australia! Thinking about it I had wondered if the likes of Christmas Jumpers, Snowballs (the yellow drink), and Boxing Day also would raise eyebrows in America too! Also I don’t think I knew your name before you started that list.

      Also what about Advent Calendars? This is stuff I don’t know whether everyone has, or it’s just us!

      Don’t know if you watched the Christmas Doctor Who, but they had high-class Christmas crackers where they had poem extracts instead of the jokes! That’s evil step-mothers for you.

      • Advent Calendars in Australia are of the chocolate a day variety. The crackers must have some cheap trinket as well as a joke and poems don’t cut it. This year we managed to keep the tree up until two weeks ago, almost to Easter, but our eccentric aunts and uncles kept their Christmas decorations up all year round, in the style of Miss Havisham. 40 years is a long time to beat.

      • I’m quite horrified to get the impression that chocolate Advent calendars seem to be the norm here these days. I grew up with just pictures – never chocolate – and don’t see why that wonder shouldn’t be good enough still!

        I don’t know if there are real crackers with poems, probably are, but in the final Matt Smith Doctor Who episode it did lead to a rather beautiful and touching scene.

        And I agree with your Miss Havisham allusion! Honestly you should pack your Aunties and Uncles off to the town of North Pole in Alaska as there it’s Christmas every day!

      • Sadly the Aunts and Uncles passed away years ago, but I’m sure they would have liked your idea of Christmas every day.

      • North Pole in America isn’t my idea. It’s a real place! A bit horrific and they tried to get all the shop owners to dress up all year round to maintain the myth for tourists. There was some resistance.

      • Oh, OK, I thought you were joking. If the tourists like it I can see the point but it must be hard going on the shops. What do they do at Christmas!

      • That’s the worst part. If you write a letter to Santa at THE North Pole it goes to North Pole in Alaska. The school children get a rude awakening when they are told that they are now the elves and have to reply to kids around the world – and there is no real Santa – and some children from this school planned a gun massacre which was prevented, but made the headlines.

      • You’re joking now aren’t you. Aren’t you?

      • Sorry, still not joking. I read about it in a collected work of Jon Ronson (who I mentioned in my last blog, as I write now) who went and spoke to all these people. I see it’s still available on the Guardian website. The letters bit is in part 01, I see.

      • What an amazing article! Somewhere between The Twilight Zone and Stepford Wives. And in the weirdness of the Christmas town is this group of kids who have to cope with their elders participation in the war (and so normalising and bringing home the actions of war). The fact that the child had no concept of the consequences of their planned actions, yet easy access to high powered weaponry is such an obvious problem I don’t why it wasn’t tackled head on. War, what is it good for, absolutely nothing.

  6. Hilarous! I never would have put you down as such a traditionalist. Glad you finally found your traditional Christmas, even if it WAS in Costa. I always think the staff there seem happier than your usual baristas.

    Love Denise

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