Every year, as soon as December hits with a wry smile and only 24 days to go, the boys want to put the Christmas tree up.
You’d think that living in a Muslim country would mean Christmas might start a little later. Not so: the commercial side of it is alive and well in the UAE. The shops are full of Christmas-themed merchandise, and their windows decked out with glittery, wintry displays. Expat Woman, the hugely popular online forum, even held its festive family day-out – complete with a Santa’s grotto and Christmas market – on 8 November.
And each year, we try a little harder to teach the boys the true meaning. There was the occasion when I was setting up the Christmas nativity, and Son2 came over to peer at the figurines: he looked quizzically at the reverent wise men bearing gifts, the proud, tired parents and the guardian angel. Then he reached out and grabbed the cow sitting lowing in the hay. “Mummy, what is it?” he asked, with a not-so-reverent shine in his eyes. “Is it a farm?”
I think we’ve made progress since then. Which is easier said than done in a country where many of the schools treat this holiday as a hush-hush operation, putting on celebrations but disguising them as winter festivals. However, while my mum can now pull off pretty Christmas trees with beads and candles, and which even rotate, there’s a department where I’ve had to learn a thing or two myself:
Letting go of the Christmas tree OCD.
The children’s excitement about hanging twinkly lights, baubles and tinsel on a fake tree takes on the momentum of a runaway train, and despite knowing this should be a fuzzy, homely experience – with Christmas jingles in the background and mince pies warming in the oven – it never quite works out like this.
The tree needs to be built; and slotting 30 branches of greenery into place bores the kids silly; the spaghetti junction of tangled lights then needs sorting out at the same time as stopping the boys from jumping on the tiny bulbs; then they don’t work; the dusty boxes of decorations are ripped open dangerously fast, and the contents practically flung at the tree in excitement. I can’t be the only mum who secretly rearranges the multi-coloured, haphazardly placed baubles when the children are sleeping.
This week, the chance arose to skip all this rigmarole and mess. The boys were off school for the 3-day National Day break and at home with our nanny while I worked 2 of the days. “Shall we do the tree?” she asked (and I swear I saw a faint hint of trepidation in her face). “YES!” I replied, a little too eagerly. “Please, that would be great!” (I wouldn’t have to sweat about colour schemes, bald spots, smashed decorations or gold, tinsel-tastic explosions).
I got home from work and Son1 practically blind-folded me in his keenness to show me their handiwork. The lights were turned off, and in the darkness I was led to the tree: “Wow, it’s beautiful! I love it,” I exclaimed. “Great job, boys!”
And while I really did mean it; and haven’t moved a single decoration (honestly!), apart from the ones the cat swats at the bottom, there was one thing I had to ask DH later. “What happened to the lights?” They were different from last year’s now broken electric bulbs. “They’re all blue, and flashing … kind of like a police car rushing to a traffic accident.”
Turns out they were the only ones left in the shop (and grabbed in a rush by my family of boys with no care for aesthetics) – and the neon-blue glow is rather growing on me. At least, it will when I take the lights upstairs and string them on the white tree instead.