The ghost of Christmas present has spookily arrived

Torbay Weekly

It's mid-November, and I can hold them back no longer: my children have moved inexorably into the Christmas mindset.

From now until 26th December, I will be accosted by the Ghost of Christmas Present at every corner. It's not that I dislike the spectre, I assure you; it takes very little to ignite the latent spark nestling festively within my breast and fan it into a roaring, all-consuming inferno.

It's simply that I am not keen on lighting the touch paper and peaking too soon. But it's now too late in our house; the embers are smouldering and the children are basking in their warm glow.

Henceforth, I am fully aware that the vast majority of conversations will be Christmas-themed, ranging from hair-tearing despair about what X can possibly procure for Y, swiftly followed by fevered speculation about what X will receive from Y in return, to suggestions about this year's Christmas cocktail.

There will be a good deal of time and energy devoted to persuasive arguments about putting up the tree as early as possible, and lengthy discussion about which service we will attend this year.

I am rooting for Midnight Mass; there is nothing so beautiful as leaving the church on a cold, clear, starlit night after once again witnessing the miracle of the infant born in a stable.

Returning to the warm house to indulge in a modest tipple of mulled wine or hot chocolate to soothe chilled fingers and throats before tumbling into bed is a wonderful start to the festivities.

But until that happy day dawns, there is much preparation to be done. I am always reminded at this transitional time of year of an advert that was shown on television a good while ago.

From memory, it featured a group of women preparing for 5th November. There is colourful footage of them pouring vast quantities of energy into celebrating this festival with their families, displaying a sky full of spectacular sparks and a towering bonfire.

Cue the entrance of the ad campaign's signature music as the smoke clears and the women appear as a united front, striding forward in slow motion but with tangible determination as one of them utters a single word: "Christmas."

I considered this to be an effective advert, but I am starting to think I may have created the entire manifestation, as no-one else has any recollection of having seen it. Which makes me wonder whether, in fact, I have missed my true calling and should have been a marketing executive at the forefront of award-winning television campaigns….

But, before I get completely distracted, back to the task in hand: Christmas. We have some concerns about the tree this year. Throughout childhood, I coveted a real Christmas tree. Visiting households that displayed one was an olfactory revelation - I never knew Christmas smelt so good!

My husband and I gleefully indulged in a real tree for our first Christmas together. It was huge, filling its corner of the lounge with festive beauty and emitting the most gloriously pungent aroma.

So enamoured was I with it, and so effusive my description, that my dad, a quiet, unexcitable man, buzzed up to my husband's flat and growled, "I want to see your tree". Unfortunately, he had picked the wrong flat buzzer - I think the upstairs neighbour was somewhat alarmed.  
That first spectacular tree set a precedent for which all subsequent trees fell short. Year upon year, I would be disappointed by the examples we chose which, although lovely to look at, never replicated that wonderful fragrance.

The final straw came a few years ago when we spotted what we thought was a bargain at a local shop. Trussed in netting, it hid many defects that were thrown into sharp relief once the ties were loosened and it sprang - or rather slouched - free.

Within days, the needles began to turn brown, and by Christmas Day itself most of them had dropped. Thoroughly disillusioned, we vowed to invest in a carefully selected artificial tree the following year, and have never looked back.

This Christmas, I imagine, will be interesting; our very chewy puppy could have a field day, not only with the tree and its decorations, but with anything we choose to place beneath it.

My children have quite nonchalantly suggested that putting up the tree earlier will counteract the problem. I sense the Ghost of Christmas Present up to his old tricks; let's just hope they're right.