Ian McMillan: How can you show distaste? What will the fairy think?

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We had a strict rule in our house when I was a boy; the Christmas decorations didn’t go up until the second week in December.

“It’s long enough to be dusting,” my mother would say, and although I probably pulled a face like a Darfield gargoyle and went, “Awwww mam!” I accepted the idea that Christmas was a brief but sustained period of excitement, like a ferry trip in a storm. The year proceeded at its own pace during my childhood and nothing was allowed to arrive too early in case my excitement peaked and I had nothing left to whoop and weep about on the day itself.

These days, as we know, that’s not the case. People take their lead from the glittering shops and trim their houses up while it’s still November, and on very rare occasions even before the guy has been burned on the fire. Each to their own, of course, and I don’t want to be a killjoy, but I reckon that by December 13 the decorations that went up very early must be looking a bit, well, tired. A little jaded. A tad threadbare. Sitting in lounges that have been decorated too early is like sitting in a Christmas museum in July or going to the public dress rehearsal of a pantomime where the cast keep forgetting their lines and the principal boy can’t work out which way to turn.

Not only that, I find that when the Christmas decorations are up it’s impossible to tell anybody off or be in a bad mood because if you try to be enraged you just look even sillier standing next to an artificial silver tree with a fairy on top. You’re trying to muster as much dignity as you can, you’re marshalling your arguments and you’re trying to keep your temper on an even keel but you can’t stop looking at the tree, and the baubles, and the tinsel. And the fairy. The flipping fairy. The fairy of joy, of goodwill, of happiness. How can you growl with distaste? What will the fairy think? In mid-rant somebody offers you a cracker to pull or a mince pie to chomp and you can’t help grinning.

Of course this can work the other way too; because it’s difficult to maintain a bad mood in a room full of miniature representations of Santa then it might be the best time to reveal to somebody that you’ve just broken their favourite vase, the one that was handed down from Great Uncle Horace’s family.

It wasn’t really your fault. You were moving the vase a little bit to stand a festive candle next to it and it was seized by a sudden attack of gravity and rushed to the unforgiving floor in top gear. The person who has dropped the vase approaches the person who is unaware of the dropping of the vase and says “Doesn’t the room look festive?” and the unaware person says: “Yes, I think we’re ready for Christmas now. I’ll just go and trail some tinsel round Uncle Horace’s old vase like we do every year.” At this point the person who has dropped the vase panics and launches into a rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas and tries to get the unaware person to join in. Unsuccessfully.

You can put your decorations up now, though. It’s December 13. Just be very careful with that vase.