The year before last, while dismantling our Xmas tree I found myself eye to eye with this Waxeye (photo). I don’t know how long he’d been camouflaged in the drying pine branches, but once discovered he perched stock still and stared back at me. When I put the tree outside on the grass, he hopped along the branch and calmly flew away. It was Twelfth Night and a perfect ending to my Christmas season.
Christmas 2012, we stuffed our luggage with gifts and beach clothes and travelled north. First stop a farm house, where all too soon the children realized that once you’ve left your festively decorated home, the lead up to Christmas is not the same. There wasn’t a string of angels in sight, nor a wreath on the front door. More importantly, there was no tree. Daughter 12, made a token shrine in her bedroom with; a $2 shop wreath, cards from school friends depicting snowy scenes and her fleece Santa hat.
However, it wasn’t only our temporary accommodation that lacked for festive trimmings; an acute attack of Douglas-Fir-mite or similar had taken place in the North Island.
‘We haven’t put a tree up this year,’ said some, when the subject arose. ‘No, we didn’t bother either,’ said others. Trooges. They were everywhere.
As a child, if we went to Taupo for Xmas, the first thing my mum did was hunt for a suitable piece of driftwood and turned it into a tree. They were always slightly wonky, but once wedged into an old bucket, dressed in baubles and mulched with presents, they looked the part.
If I’d known the huge significance of my Mums humble act, I wouldn’t have been so complacent. I’d have hacked off the nearest Manuka branch and fashioned a tree in front of the fire place on arrival. But I didn’t. I’d packed the children’s stockings, but hadn’t thought to bring fairy lights, let alone tinsel. I’d inadvertently become one of them. A Trooge.
I fleetingly thought of making a wreath, but stopped at stripping some perfectly hued green and red protected pohutukawa branches from the roadside. Baah PC humbug – I should have, if only to maintain a little Xmas spirit in transit.
Two days later, at Christmas Eve lunch came the real clanger. Granddad told his story; how as a boy he’d realized the bottle top alongside the empty beer bottle his father had left out for Santa didn’t match. His penny had dropped 71 years earlier and so rather abruptly, just then, had his grandsons.
‘Why do parents make such a big deal about Santa?’ asked son 9, in the safety of the car. ‘If he’s not even REAL?’ ‘I don’t understand?’ he continued, close to tears. ‘Why?’
‘To try and make it more fun,’ I replied weakly, and thought of the effort I’d put into maintaining the myth of Mr Claus over the past 12+ years. I did get sick of him taking the kudos for the ‘best’ presents, so demoted him to purveyor of stocking fillers a few years back. You’ve got to believe to receive was my children’s mantra, despite small snips of evidence proving Santa zipping down the chimney was as likely as a fairy collecting your milk teeth for a gold coin deposit. Like most parents, every Xmas eve we’d put out the customary mince pie and bottle of beer for thirsty-hungry Santa to snack on while he delivered his loot. I never gave thought to where and when it would all end.
We relocated to family in Auckland. They had a tree. It was pink. We spread out our gifts underneath it. At last the children could do a bit of present feeling. It appeased them, if only for a while.
‘I want to go home, it’s just not like Christmas,’ cried daughter 12. We cuddled in the garden. I couldn’t think what to say. ‘Can we go and see those Xmas houses in town?’
I’d had a couple of festive champagnes with dinner. So we walked to the New World instead, in search of candy canes for the pink tree. They’d sold out. An underage shopper was trying to buy himself a six pack of bourbon premixes. The head Santa-hatted-checkout-chick was staunch. ‘Look, if your friend comes back in and tries to buy it, we know it’s for you, so we won’t sell it to him.’
I would have made his purchase for him, had I bumped into the Hallenstein-clad lad in the car park. It was Xmas eve. Good will to fellow men and peace on earth etc.
‘Do you get double time tonight?’ I asked the staunch one, when I paid for our chocolate Elves, and the Metro and DIY magazines for our host.
‘No it’s a normal day,’ she replied. ‘Money. It all adds up.’
Scrooge! On Hauraki corner.
Later, the children put out a glass of milk, three mini Mallowpuffs, plus a wilted looking carrot, even though they knew he wasn’t coming. I took small bites out of the biscuits and snapped off the tip of the carrot and hid it in the bin.
I lay in bed and wished I’d been wiser about the importance of trees. I doubted I’d see a Waxeye in the pink one in the morning – smiles on my children’s faces would do. I decided if we go away next year, I’d be sure to pack my secateurs and some decorations.