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My tree reminds me of Blackpool, says Karen Cannard




As we collected and decorated our Christmas tree this year, it felt more poignant than ever.

It had been very tempting to join those who had brought their festive decorations forward into November – bringing light and colour to the bleakness of this Covid-struck year.However, with our eldest son arriving home from his first ever term at uni at the beginning of December, we wanted it to be a whole family experience, something to mark the occasion and to embrace some form of normality in these dark times.

Before having children, our annual tree was always ‘dressed to impress’ in a carefully designed colour scheme of red and gold, against a background of delicate white lights. Our toned-down festive decor of the 1990s was indeed a distinct departure from my childhood Christmases of colourful baubles and lights back in the 70s.

Karen Cannard's Christmas tree (43642652)
Karen Cannard's Christmas tree (43642652)

Since having a young family of our own, my (up)tightly controlled tree trimming gradually slipped into a lackadaisical ‘anything goes’ routine. Out went the red and gold theme and in came whatever tree decorations the children made or those we received as gifts. Adding to the emerging eclectic extravaganza were the baubles that my grandparents had passed down to my mother and which in turn I inherited, alongside my mum’s more modern Wilko coloured fairy lights.

So, what stands proudly in the corner now resembles the sparkling essence of a Blackpool Illuminations tour captured in the form of a Christmas tree.

It is vivid and I love it. And as we decorate it each year, it has become evident that it is now also a tree of treasured memories - memories of childhood, of visits to special places and of family and friendships. There are reminders of our children’s schooldays, their festive crafts and the first signs of their own taste in decorations. It’s become an annual ritual that provides time for reflection, wonder and hope, including ponderings on whether these Christmastime jewels will in turn pass down into pride of place for our future generations.

I’m not the only one who gets sentimental about passing on the festive baton. Did you hear the story recently about 83-year-old Kathy Firth from the North West who still displays the small tree and decorations that have been in her family for 98 years? Apparently, it had been bought from Warrington Market in time for her older brother Frank’s first Christmas.

You probably have your own tales of how yuletide emblems have become small family legacies, creating an unbreakable source of comfort across the generations.

It could never stand up as the perfect metaphor but this is also how I think of the stuff we discard at Christmas (and throughout the rest of the year) too – whether it’s the broken fairy lights, the spent batteries or the shiny aluminium mince pie trays. Then there’s the empty pickle jars, chocolate tubs, cardboard boxes and plastic packaging, not to mention the reams of used wrapping paper.

These are emblems in their own way, too, but not for display of course. They are hidden emblems of our values and what we choose to do with them underpins the legacy that we leave for our children and their children.

It may be a tad left-field, but I find comfort in knowing that consumable materials used by former generations are still here in a recycled or repurposed form for us to use today, helping to protect our limited resources. It’s like an invisible ribbon that connects us to both our heritage and the future.

With that brings a neat reminder that I need to book our charity Christmas tree collection for the new year, and sort out a slot at the recycling centre for some old fairy lights whose sparkle has fizzled.They’ll soon find a reinvigorated purpose in 2021.*

And that’s what I hope for 2021 – that it brings a glimmer of renewal for us all, whether that’s health, security or happiness. And after the news of this past week, by heck do we need it. My best wishes to everyone.

* For advice on reuse and recycling during the holidays and beyond, visit www.suffolkrecycling.org.uk

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