Hi everyone, I hope you’re all well! This is another little piece that I wrote for a creative writing course. It is a very accurate little snapshot of what life must have been like for my parents in raising a little terror like myself and my first foray into creative or narrative non-fiction. I hope you enjoy it!
The Christmas Lights, Fantastic!
When I was small, Christmas was everything, and I suppose, like a lot of children, I would have liked it to have been Christmas every day.
Even in the middle of the year, I would beg my mother to put up our ancient, artificial tree with its broken, bent and balding branches. It wasn’t anything to do with presents, mind you, which – at least for a lot of children – seems to be the whole point of Christmas. No, I wanted it to be Christmas every day so I could see the lights.
I loved Christmas lights when I was a child, and I suppose to a certain extent, I still do. There’s just something about the twinkling glow of a set of multicoloured fairy lights and the warmth they lend to a room, that makes me feel relaxed and at home, no matter where I find myself.
I remember that every January 1st when my dad would untangle the lights from our tree’s green, plastic branches, I would feel a bottomless pit of disappointment begin to form in me. I would cry as I watched him wrap the electrical cord around his arm to keep them from becoming tangled in the carrier bag (a pointless effort, since Christmas lights are known for tangling themselves anyway, no matter how neatly they’ve been stored away. Perhaps they become excited the closer it gets to Christmas).
I can remember throwing some of the biggest tantrums of my life on New Year’s Days as I’d watch the boxes of decorations and the bags of lights being packed away in the cupboard under the stairs – a place we were forbidden from entering, due to that also being home to our electricity box.
For days I would be inconsolable. I felt happiest when the house was all festive – the atmosphere always felt warm and bright.
‘Please bring them back!’ I’d plead.
‘But it’s not Christmas,’ my dad would reason, ‘you can’t have Christmas decorations up when it’s not Christmas.’
After a while though, the disappointment would fade as my parents distracted me from ‘cupboard under the stairs’ related questions, by encouraging me to play board games or reading with me. But the lights and the rest of the decorations were always in the back of my mind.
It always seemed to be around the middle of July that I would realise Christmas wasn’t too far away (although, five months back then used to feel like an eternity). All it would take is for someone to innocently mention the word ‘Christmas’ within range of my ears and the excitement would begin to stir.
‘Ah, now you’ve started ‘im off again!’ my mum would sigh to the offender. She would know, in that moment that I’d be going on and on about Christmas again, and begging for her and my dad to put the Christmas decorations up until the first of December when they’d be hauled out of their prison and furloughed for a few weeks.
As time wore on, my behaviour would get worse and worse. I couldn’t wrap my mind around why, if Christmas brought so much cheer, we weren’t celebrating it all year round.
‘Christmas is celebrated in December,’ my mother tried to explain during one of my temper tantrums, ‘and December is at the end of the year.’
‘Exactly,’ my father chimed in, ‘imagine Christmas without any snow, or imagine having to eat your Christmas dinner in the sunshine like they do in Australia!’ Then when I suggested that we move to Australia for the summer so that we could have two Christmases, he had to explain that Australia’s summer happened at exactly the same time as England’s winter. Now I was disappointed and confused.
I think by this point my parents were usually at the end of their tether. Most children love Christmas, it’s true, but most children love it because of Santa Claus and presents or because of the snowmen. But no, my parents had a child who was unhealthily obsessed with Christmas lights.
In an attempt to placate me, my father even managed to fashion me a set of Christmas lights of my own. He surprised me one night when he came to tuck me in, by bringing with him several small flashlights, whose ends he’d covered with those brightly coloured, translucent chocolate wrappers – the ones that come in the giant tins of Quality Street (remember how huge they used to be?). Needless to say, I was thrilled.
The idea was that I’d have my very own set of lights to use whenever I liked (which was always), as long as I stopped asking my parents to put the Christmas decorations up.
I felt incredibly special – I didn’t know anyone else my age who had their own set of Christmas lights. I was sure that all of my friends would be jealous (they weren’t).
The flashlights weren’t ideal and turned out to be rather problematic.
The first problem lay in the fact that flashlights run on batteries, and batteries only hold a finite amount of power. It’s fair to say that those batteries never lasted more than a couple of nights at a time, though since they were easily replaced, the peace and quiet continued, at least for a while.
The second problem lay in the fact that flashlights themselves have quite a limited lifespan. Rather quickly, they began to break down. First the red one, then the green and the pink, followed by the blue. In the end, I was left with the yellow one, which, let’s be realistic, was just a plain old flashlight. Still, I used that solitary light until, finally, it too went the way of its siblings.
The flashlights had helped, however. My obsession seemed to have ebbed and my mum and dad were able to go long stretches of time without having to answer the question, ‘is it nearly Christmas yet?’ It seemed as though I was beginning to outgrow my fascination with Christmas lights.
One night, when I was maybe six years old, I had woken early. It was still pitch dark. The rule in our house when we were little was that my brothers, sister and I were not allowed to go downstairs while it was still dark (because none of us could reach the light switches and so we’d open the refrigerator for the light, often leaving it open while we ate large quantities of cheese and butter we found inside).
I felt rather excited by the notion that I was the only one awake in the whole house, and therefore, who was there to make me go back to bed – to make sure that I wouldn’t get into mischief.
This particular night, my first thought hadn’t been one of mischief. In fact, all I’d wanted to do was watch cartoons. So, having crept my way across the squeaky floor of the landing and down the groaning stairs in the dark, I took myself into the living room, plonked myself in front of the TV and turned it on.
The problem with waking up in the middle of the night in the late eighties and early nineties was that at a certain point in the evening, terrestrial television broadcasters stopped broadcasting until around 5 a.m. When I switched on the TV, I was greeted by nothing but an eerie static glow – and so really, what was to happen next was entirely the fault of all the TV executives in charge of scheduling programming.
Without cartoons to entertain me, and finding myself in the forbidden and yet exciting world of ‘our house in the middle of the night,’ I searched around for something to do.
As I turned on the spot in front of the glow of the TV, something caught my eye: the cupboard under the stairs, just visible in the hallway through the living room door.
Without thinking of the consequences of doing something I knew I shouldn’t (that ship had already sailed by my being up and about to begin with), I ran to the cupboard, grasped the small ornate, metal doorknob in my small hand and yanked as hard as I could.
The door flung open with a loud groaning creak. I was sure my parents would have heard that, or perhaps my little brother, who would have told on me. I listened for a few moments to see if anyone was stirring – but no, I was in the clear.
The cupboard’s interior looked as though a bomb had gone off in a clothing factory. There were jackets, coats, jumpers and wellington boots crammed in the rather small space. I climbed inside and began to dig around with all my might.
Then I found what I was looking for.
After a few minutes, spent feverishly throwing clothes to one end of the cupboard as I made my way towards the back, my hand grasped something familiar. It felt prickly, almost like the bristles of a well-used toothbrush. The Christmas tree.
I yanked and pulled and tugged until finally, it sprang from the mountain of clothes and I was able to pull it free of the cupboard. I looked at it, all folded up into a compressed and shapeless green blob. It looked sad and I knew exactly how to brighten it up.
I dove back in amongst the coats and boots and rummaged in the back until I found a box of decorations. I shoved the coats out of the way and struggled with the box until I was able to drag it from the cupboard, then returned to grab the carrier bag full of lights.
I looked around at the mess I had made of the living room. Jackets and coats spilled out of the cupboard under the stairs and the living room floor was littered with tinsel and baubles that had spilled from the box.
I did my best to jam the clothes back into the cupboard and closed the door as best I could before returning my attention to the mini Christmas explosion that had erupted in the middle of the living room – in the middle of July!
Quickly, I got to work pulling out the branches of the old Christmas tree – an act I’d watched my mother meticulously perform every December 1st (I was not so meticulous in my unfolding of branches and the tree ended looking like something from a factory reject pile). At a certain point, I had to go and retrieve a chair from the kitchen because I couldn’t reach much past the middle.
Branches unfolded, I stood back and looked at my work. Even without the glitter and sparkle of the lights and tinsel, the tree looked good. I felt good just looking at it.
I hurried on, pulling the lights from their bag and gently unfolding the cable. I was surprised to find that they weren’t tangled at all. My dad had always made it sound as though some strange and mystical event occurred whenever they were packed away, causing the neatly stored lights to become entangled and entwined around themselves.
I got back up on the chair and draped the lights over the branches of the tree. My mum always told me, ‘the lights must always go on first, followed by the baubles and then the tinsel.’ The angel always went on the top last, a job reserved for my dad.
Next, I selected the shiniest baubles we had and plopped their threads on the ends of the branches. I tried to distribute them evenly but when I stepped back, I realised that the majority of them were congregated around the middle. It didn’t matter though – to me it looked magnificent.
Finally, I grabbed up the garlands of tinsel and weaved them around the tree in spiralling streams of gold, red, blue and silver and when I was finished, I marvelled at my masterpiece, glowing in the light of the television.
The only thing left to do was to plug in the lights and bask in their warm calming glow.
The moment I flicked the switch on the wall socket, the gloom of the living room was banished by the soft glow of red, blue, pink, green and yellow lights – hundreds of them!
I lay down on the floor and shoved my head under the skirt of tree branches. It was dazzling. The lights reflected and refracted off the glittery baubles and seemed to bounce off every strand of tinsel, causing a rather spectacular kaleidoscope of colour. All I could do was grin at its sheer brilliance.
Soon, my eyes started to get heavy, and slowly, I drifted off to sleep, marvelling at my handy work.
The next thing I knew, I was opening my sleepy eyes and staring up into the faces of my furious mum and dad – they were livid (and quite rightly, I must say). I didn’t care though – not one bit. In fact, I felt rather proud of myself – and I still feel proud of myself to this day whenever I think about our Christmas tree‘s little midsummer outing.
As always, thank you for reading if you did! Your time is very much appreciated.
© 2017 GLT