We got married just before Christmas 1988. The reception was to be at our flat, so we wanted a IMG_1346Christmas tree to give it a suitably festive feel. We went to John Lewis (as about-to-be-married couples do), to buy the decorations, and I remember spending what seemed like an inordinate amount of money on probably three-dozen tasteful, gold-coloured glass baubles.

Twenty-six years on, a few of them still survive.

Over the years, however, they have been joined by an increasingly eclectic, mishmash of decorations, each of which has some special significance, and a particular memory attached to it.

I’ve now come to think of our tree decorations as a metaphor for the trajectory of married life. You start out, assuming you know what to expect: confident that your future will be happy, ordered, and largely within your control – as reflected in the choice of the tasteful, if faintly dull, matching baubles. You end up – after more than a quarter century of ups, downs, joys, sorrows (including bereavement and serious illness) – recognising that it was never going to be like that. You also discover that, far from being something to be regretted, the chaos and unpredictability of family life is cause for celebration – hence the fairly bonkers collection of ornaments we are proud to display each Christmas.

IMG_1295Our sons are now both six-foot plus, but the tree tells the tale of their smaller selves. There are festive plastic shapes bought from the Early Learning Centre, painted with more enthusiasm than talent when they were toddlers (and not much enthusiasm either, if I’m honest). There are umpteen Tiggers (both Disney and AA Milne versions); and many a superhero: batman with the Joker’s head as a Jack-in-a-box; Superman carrying a sack of presents. There are cartoon characters like an ice-fishing Taz: each of these figures is a mini work of art and irreplaceable.

There is a Santa and a snowman, knitted long ago by my mother-in-law for the grandsons that she is no longer capable of recognising. There are characters from Harry Potter, but less because we are fans of JK Rowling, and more because my late father-in-law’s name was Harold Potter.

There is a misshapen clay star covered with glitter, made by one of our sons at nursery (I can’t remember which); and a perfect, vivid green silk star, bought in memory of a new-born baby girl (whose name meant ‘emerald’), who survived just two hours.

IMG_1347 There are Christmas robots (me neither…); and Oogie Boogie, the bogeyman from Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas. In the film, Oogie is made of a sack filled with maggots, but our version is just plastic.

We have a Santa on a gondola, bought on a trip by the four of us to Venice marking our 20th wedding anniversary (we’d also been there on honeymoon, but would never have bought such a thing back then). There is a cheesy Statue of Liberty, bought the year we all went to New York; and a wooden reindeer from a trip to Lapland. Ironically, the sub-standard Santa – supposedly the highlight of the trip – couldn’t actually name a single one of his own reindeer when asked.

There are various breeds of dogs; some (I confess) sitting in sparkly stiletto shoes. The most numerous are dachshunds, in honour of our mini dachs, Flash, who is only just marginally too big to hang on the tree himself.

One of the biggest ornaments that we do manage to fit on the tree is a foot-long, glass and pointed. I think it is meant to be an icicle, but it reminds me more of a dagger, although that might be because it was a present from a friend who was in the middle of an unhappy split from her much-loved husband at the time.

There is a brace of baubles in the shape of Arsenal shirts – which were an absolute bargain, reduced to under half price in the Arsenal shop; and also ones to mark the 2012 Olympics, an event which showed the city where our children have been privileged to grow up at its absolute best.

London is also where we as a family have made some of our most stalwart and loyal friends. This year, we lost one of the staunchest of these; someone special to each of us, that our sons have known and loved and seen regularly all their lives. Her death left us all reeling, united in grief and incomprehension.

It is only a tiny act of remembrance, but we were all cheered to discover the glassware design company she worked for all the time we knew her, makes Christmas decorations. This year and every year from now on, we will hang an elegant engraved glass snowflake in her memory.

It seems a fitting tribute.

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