Have yourself a branch-in-bucket Christmas

A week to go. Is it hysteria in your house? Oh, it is in ours. Jocasta, of course, is very organised. She purchased many of the presents back in June. Trouble is, she can’t remember where she hid them.

We’re a couple of days away from getting out the ladder in case she placed them in the roof cavity in some fit of madness. Certainly, I’ve spotted her on her hands and knees several times, searching, searching, just in case she hid the presents beneath the couch.

It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas chez Glover and all over the world.

Also, Jocasta always buys books for the daughters-in-law, but herein lies a problem. The daughters-in-law, who are both ferocious readers, must be given books that were published no earlier than December 24. Otherwise they’ll say: “Oh I read this, and it was terrific, I so enjoyed it, and how perfect it is to have a second copy.”

Jocasta, who thinks she can buy the new Ann Patchett or the new Emily Maguire and then rest easy, will have to think again.

I have responsibilities too, of course. I was required to buy the Christmas tree. Instead, I decided to hack a small branch off a tree in the garden and bung it in a bucket of sand. This not only saved money; it means I’m ahead with my pruning. True, there’s nowhere to hang any baubles, but that just saves having to buy any baubles.

It’s not just stinginess, you know. I’m nervous about spending too much time at the shops. Actually, I’m nervous about everything.

Two years of COVID-19 have destroyed my ability to party. In place of FOMO, the fear of missing out, I have a heightened awareness of what they now call HOGO, the hassle of going out.

After all that time in a mask, smiling involves muscles that I have forgotten how to use. My going out shirts are themselves going out. Of style. Also, small talk is impossible. I don’t know how to do it.

It used to be you could just recommend a new TV show, but – after two years of lockdown – everyone has seen everything. Apart from mentioning a ripper episode of The Two Ronnies that folks might have missed back in 1987, the crystal bucket is empty.

Worse, I no longer know how to greet people. Am I meant to hug them, shake their hand, or just curtsy from a distance?

Every time I bump into someone, it’s like a duel at the O.K. Corral. We pause, two gunslingers, arms hanging loosely by our sides, ready to go for the handshake, but only once the other party signals their move.

Often we just stand there, for what seems like minutes, both parties twitching slightly, not wanting to breach whatever might be the other’s COVID-19 protocols.

Really, it’s just as easy to stay at home.

Yet even there, behind locked doors, the COVID-19 anxieties press down. Should Santa really be going from home to home in the middle of a pandemic? I note there is no period of quarantine between countries, or even continents. Could Santa prove a superspreader? Does Rudolf’s red nose represent a breakthrough infection? Is Santa’s ho-ho-ho actually a bronchial cough?

Should Santa be going house to house in the middle of a pandemic?Credit:Julian Kingma

I’ll put out the glass of milk for Santa, as always, and the carrots for the reindeer, but am now considering adding a pump pack of hand sanitiser and a box of rapid antigen tests.

After all, up at the North Pole, they may well have a bad Elf problem.

Other problems crowd in. Should you still arrange Christmas cards in a display on the sideboard, even though – courtesy of the overburdened postal service – the supply has now dwindled to two cards, one of which is from the local real estate agent and the other from a couple in Scotland whose precise relationship to us we have long forgotten?

Suddenly, I hear a cry of triumph from the other room. I run in. Jocasta has found the presents. They were hidden in the big Esky, the one we never use. Why wouldn’t they be?

No longer frantic, Jocasta takes time to view my branch-in-a-bucket Christmas tree, saying she thinks it “quite artistic” and “like a sophisticated commentary on the season”.

She smiles.

“That was just what I intended,” I lie.

I decide to put the two Christmas cards on display, and then use my origami skills to make a few baubles, which I inexpertly nail to my festive branch-in-a-bucket.

This wins more unexpected praise from Jocasta, who appears to have lost her mind due to the triumph of locating the presents.

I download a new Christmas album, set it playing, and hang some old Christmas lights along the front fence. Jocasta is wrapping the presents, humming.

Maybe I’ll risk the shops, after all. I’m double vaxxed, with a third dose soon, and you can’t waste your whole life worrying.

I’ll attend the bookshop on Jocasta’s behalf and see if they have a section called “Really Obscure Literary Fiction”, so we have backup books for the daughters-in-law. Oh, and a case of sparkling shiraz would be handy, for when friends pop in. Plus some more baubles for the tree.

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

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