On holiday in Budapest one torrentially rainy day in August in 2010, that happened also to be my birthday, we made our soggy way across town between museums and passed a water feature set into an area of grass and shrubs beside a main road. Lodged amongst some rocks in the stream was this lonely glass tree; a birthday present from the city to me?! We brought it home and it’s now part of the Christmas set.
The pine cones in the photograph had been collected by my Mum and Dad over the years when they spent the winters in their caravan in Spain. They headed south in the autumn and returned in the spring in an attempt to alleviate my Dad’s emphysema in a warmer and drier climate than Somerset. My heroic Mum towed the caravan all the way to Spain where they stayed on a campsite near Alicante, populated by other people who either had similar health problems or just didn’t like cold winters, but didn’t have a great deal of money – self-catering winter on the cheap! They came from all over Europe, but particularly the damp northern parts, and it was a very friendly gathering; Christmas day was a thoroughly international affair where everyone would bring out their tables, chairs and Christmas food from their own countries and share with each other, washed down with much local wine.
The site was owned and run by a friendly, local Spaniard, his wife and two sons and perhaps because my Mum made a big effort to learn, and try to speak to them in Spanish, my parents were befriended by the family who invited them to their son’s wedding and asked them a few times to join in with their traditional Three Kings festival on 6th January. At that time (early 1980s) in this area of Spain Epiphany was when people would exchange presents, and make a special cake with 3 beans in to represent the Magi – those who got the beans would have good luck for the year – a little like our coins in the Christmas pudding. Toward my parents’ final visits 10 years later, the emphasis had changed to celebrating on Christmas Day. This usually sunny sojourn helped my Dad for a while and when he was feeling OK they would walk around the campsite, full of geraniums, orange and pine trees, idly picking up oddly shaped, strongly scented or especially beautiful pine cones and bring them back home in unreasonable numbers! Now we have them, and they come out at Christmas to nicely clutter-up the shelves alongside the holly and ivy.
Another Christmas tree, my partner spotted this small, flat-pack, self-assembly wooden tree in Lidl several years ago and was charmed by it, especially as it was only about three quid! It looks like something from Northern or Eastern Europe and we’d had it for a few years before we realised there were 24 of the ornaments to hang on the tree, so wondered if it was based on a version of an Advent Calendar. And the ornaments are quite picky about where they’re placed on the tree or they don’t hang properly – it seems quite carefully thought through. But it’s not German folk-engineering, it’s from Taiwan! I guess it’s just a bit of commercial opportunism by Lidl who recognised the potential appeal of a ‘traditional’ wooden Christmas decorative object. I ponder about what the makers of these items think when they’re swiftly shaping or deftly painting this stuff for an eager western market – are they resentful at their low pay, pleased to have some pay, bewildered by the style what it’s about or just indifferent? I can’t imagine. But it’s a bright and cheerful thing and we like having it on our table.
I bought this Santa cake decoration years ago in a kitchen shop but I liked the quality of the modelling, it wasn’t as cartoon-like as many cake decorations – I felt he had some gravitas!!! So he was elevated to become part of the mantelpiece parade (more details in a future post) and is sometimes accompanied by another cake decoration who has no such sobriety – a tiny gingerbread boy!