Before Christmas, my husband and I were bemoaning our cramped living quarters overrun with under-5s and the trail of destruction left in their wake. Sticker books, paint pots and glitter on the dining table, three (yes, three) buggies in the hall, a toddler scooting around the kitchen, puzzle pieces and items of plastic (and non plastic) food behind the sofa cushions, 150 ball pit balls upturned onto the carpet.
“Our house is a squash and a squeeze!” said we. So, as we had learnt from Julia Donaldson, we asked a wise old man (let’s call him Santa) what to do. “Take in your hen. Take in your goat. Take in your cow,” said he. In the absence of such items in our immediate suburban vicinity, we took in a 7 foot tree, decorated it with yellow lights and gaudy baubles and placed red and gold parcels at its foot. We took in 45 Christmas cards and hung them from ribbons down the walls. We took in miniature animals in festive attire: a 20 inch reindeer, an owl sporting a woollen hat, a medallion-bearing baseball-capped Snowman which sang a rendition of Ice Ice Baby when you pressed its foot. Our children papered the front of the fridge with scribbles of goggly-eyed snowmen and stuck twenty pencil drawings to the bifold doors with festive tape. We took in candles, clementines, eight rolls of wrapping paper, bottles of champagne, platters of cheeses and boxes of chocolates. And we took in friends and relations: grandparents, siblings, nieces, nephews and close friends.
“Wise old man, what do we do now?” “Take them all out,” said he. So we drank the booze, scoffed the chocolates and packed the relatives off onto trains and planes. And yesterday, while my husband took the children to bike and scoot at Bushy Park, I purged the house of all things Christmas. I packaged up the paraphernalia in tatty old boxes long ago marked with the words ‘Xmas Decs’ and put them back in the loft. I ruthlessly removed the festive drawings and stickers from the windows and household appliances and chucked them in the recycling. Gone are the festive candles in jam jars, the gingerbread men in snow domes and the seasonal stuffed animals. And you know what? The house is enormous. I could swing ten farmyard animals in the living room and I can see my face in the fridge door.
It is wonderful, liberating and just a bit disconcerting. With no pine needles to absorb the noise, our voices echoed around the living room yesterday evening and the one remaining vase looked lonely on the mantlepiece. We sat on the sofa, the children sleeping upstairs, and wondered what on earth to do when there was no wrapping, no hosting, no more excuses for Baileys and bumper biscuit selections. Get back to the day job seemed to be the solution, whatever that was, before festive hysteria swept away all notion of normal living. But we shall enjoy the temporary peace, calmness and ten minutes of tidiness before the new school term craft projects and the January sales fill the house with yet more possessions and there is no wise man available to tell us what to do with it all.