WE took advantage of the freak snow last Tuesday to put up our Christmas tree and various bits and pieces of decorations around the house.
Although it was only November 30 we looked at each other with ‘gowan ya divil’ expressions and hauled the retractable stairs down from the attic, pulling out boxes and bags at random.
Ok – tree, check.
Beleek china crib, complete with a teeny tiny baby Jesus, check.
Various amounts of lights, miraculously not in a tangled mess, check.
Enormous eight-legged spider scuttling at alarming speed up my arm?
Mammoth spider dealt with, we emptied all the boxes and started throwing red and gold decorations on all available surfaces, taste be dammed.
The tree slotted nicely into place and after spending a few minutes pulling all the branches into place it was ready for baubles, decorations and tinsel.
A couple of hours, and a cheesy Christmas CD, later it was all done and the empty boxes were returned to the attic – the job was oxo.
“God, that was so easy?” I pondered, sitting heavily down on the sofa, recalling memories of days gone by when putting up the tree certainly was not easy.
When we were kids my Dad put off putting up the Christmas tree for as long as possible. Looking back I don’t blame him as, with four over-excited children, he was only trying to preserve his sanity.
Back then though, we thought he was the biggest Scrooge going and consoled ourselves by huddling together in our various bedrooms nodding and muttering “The big Scrooge. Yeah. Big Scrooge. The fucker” at each other. Sometimes even Mammy Dunne would join in, such was the level of his Scroogeness.
Every other house on the street would be decorated, lit up, be-tinselled and be-decked. You couldn’t move for the life-sized Rudolphs adorning the neighbour’s lawns but not our house – it remained dark and desolate. No tree, no lights, nothing.
Eventually, a mere week before Christmas, he’d crack and announce, benevolently, that it was time to put up the tree. And much as we had been looking forward to it, when he actually announced that it was happening, tiny shivers of fear would start to trickle down our spines.
First of all the house would have to be cleaned from top to bottom for the arrival of The Tree – we could never grasp why the skirting board behind the wardrobe in the boxroom had anything to do with the tree downstairs in the sitting room, but Mammy Dunne insisted it be cleaned, so it was.
Our backs broken from all the unaccustomed cleaning, we’d troop downstairs just in time to see Daddy Dunne turn the corner in his Renault 16, with the tree tied precariously to the roof.
“Do you know how much this cost?” he’d roar, as soon as he was in earshot, looking around at us expectantly as we feebly shrugged and ventured vague amounts.
“It looks like it only cost about a fiver,” the Middle Sister would announce loudly, brazenly looking Daddy Dunne in the eye – oh she was a wan, so she was – egging him on.
“A fiver?” he’d explode, eyes bulging “you must be jesting. A fiver? Sure you wouldn’t get…” he’d wheel around helplessly looking for something to demonstrate his point “that plant over there for a fiver!”
“No. Twenty five pound that cost me. Twenty five pound. Twenty last year it was. Supply and demand yer man said. I’m not going to him again next year…”
We stopped listening at that point as we knew that was untrue. He always went to the same place. A lad selling trees at the side of the road near Dunnes Stores in Kilnamanagh. Best trees in the world. Never went anywhere else, never would.
Huffing and puffing he’d wrestle the tree off the roof showering the driveway with pine needles and shove it in through the front door, destroying Mammy Dunne’s newly hoovered carpet.
Panting now with the effort he’d jam the tree into it’s stand, hammering in a few bits of wood to keep it upright and then he’d sit back.
Daddy Dunne is old school you see – putting the tree up is a man’s job, but decorating it? No, that’s for wimmin and childerhen.
His job done, Daddy Dunne would light up the first of many, many John Player Blue and get down to the serious business of supervising.
God we hated it! If only he’d leave us to get on with it – we had all the baubles, the tinsel, the knick-knacks, all ready, if he just let us be we’d have them up and could actually enjoy it.
But no – he’d sit there, an armchair general, pointing out the bleedin’ obvious, getting on our nerves and generally just annoying everyone.
“Left there, that branch, lookit, it has no bauble yokes on it. And dem lights there, that last string, they’re not working, I’m tellin’ ya. Mind that tinsel it’s too near the Christmas candle, it’ll go up, I’m warnin’ ya!
“LEFT I said with that bauble, LEFT!”
Despite his rough and ready exterior and gruff manner, my Dad is truly one of the finest men I know and we, all of us to a man, love him to distraction but on those days, those Tree Putting Up Days, we would gladly have traded him for Satan himself.
Finally after hours and hours of decorating, Daddy Dunne roaring, literally hundreds of cigarettes burning and Mammy Dunne running around after us with a dustpan and brush, the tree would be up and our house fit in with the rest of them on the road.
We’d stagger to our beds, filthy, exhausted, teary, giving out violently about Daddy Dunne under our breaths and vowing that next year we were either going to disappear for the tree decorating or maim him so he’d shut up for the day.
But of course when the next Christmas rolled around we did neither of those things, we meekly lined up in the hall waiting for the car to come around the corner, taking bets on how much the tree cost that year and mentally preparing ourselves.
Thems were the days, eh?