Clare Mackintosh: The colours of Christmas past
PUBLISHED: 11:54 15 December 2016 | UPDATED: 11:54 15 December 2016
Go on, embrace your inner Woolworth's. I dare you
Tucked away in my mother’s loft is a box of Woolworth’s decorations. Beneath the tissue paper, now yellow with age, are carefully folded squares of shimmering foil in reds and golds; bright greens and silvers. When hung, they become bouncing Chinese lanterns, reflecting the light onto the ceiling in dancing diamonds too fast to count.
They are wonderfully, gloriously tacky. Beneath them in this box is a string of Christmas lights; a cornucopia of coloured bulbs nestling within plastic flowers, some cracked, some missing. Elsewhere, a set of baubles made from bright mirrored glass; a tiny moulded tree lying inexplicably next to a neon pink pineapple. There are strings of silver beads, and miles of soft, rustling tinsel that slip through my fingers like water. Silver, gold, red, green... Oh - and lammeta! Those slippery, shimmering strands of foil, to be draped over each tree branch in a terrible imitation of icicles.
There was nothing subtle about the Christmas of my childhood, and I loved every bit of it, yet such decor seems to be long forgotten. Somewhere over the last forty years Christmas has acquired taste. Gone are the bright clashing colours and the foil streamers; gone are the chasing lights and the inflatable Santas, the gold-sprayed fir cones and the nodding reindeer. In their place are grey and white wooden stars; red gingham hearts; angels made from rustic wire. Scandinavian, we’re told. With a Shaker influence and a New England twist. Come, admire my basket of distressed pine cones; marvel at this string of copper bells; gaze at my tree, adorned with colour coordinated wooden baubles. Do you like my stockings? They’re knitted by Fair Trade Peruvian monks and hand-finished by prisoners on day release, with all profits going to charity.
Stylish and altruistic, don’t you know. Domestic Christmasses have become miniature John Lewis show-rooms; double-page magazine spreads for aspirational living. ‘Oh, I love these!’ my friend said, picking up a pink teardrop decoration, as we wandered round Burford Garden Centre last month, ‘but we’re doing silver and teal this year.’ God, how depressing. Silver and teal this year; red and green next year; grey and white the year after... What about pink? When do we get to do pink? What if we die before we get to it? Life is too short for colour-coordinated Christmasses; too short for tasteful displays designed to showboat our success. If there’s one time of year when we can drag out every decoration we have - every clashing hue and hideous-yet-sentimental trinket - it is surely Christmas.
If Woolworths were still with us today I like to think that - amongst the tastefully muted baubles demanded by the middle-class masses - there’d be a special aisle celebrating Christmasses gone by. An aisle where those of us who are cheered by cheap shiny foil can stock up on banners that make our hair stand on end when we put them up, and on lights that take longer to untangle than they’ll be on the tree. We could nod to each other, in quiet appreciation of our mutual lack of taste, and silently despair at the shoppers in the next aisle, with their baskets of Scandinavian-inspired stockings and reindeer silhouette cake stencils.
Keep your taste for Easter; for your white painted twigs hung with pastel-painted eggshells. Keep it for summer, for your beach huts and your sun rooms. Come Christmas time, leave your taste at the door and pick up decorations that make you smile. Choose a colour that’s never been anywhere near a Farrow and Ball paint chart. Go on, embrace your inner Woolworth’s. I dare you.