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Merry Christmas! - Advanced Level Reading

Average: 4.1 (12 votes)

It's Christmas Day. A day to relax. Go and make a hot drink and read Danny's article. It was written a few weeks ago.  How are you spending Christmas Day?

Next weekend, we’re going to put the Christmas tree up, which means that we’re going to surrender a quarter of our living-room space to a seven-foot jolly green giant with more twinkling lights than a clear night sky and more big red bows on it than...um...than something with lots of big red bows on it...

I know it’s time to put up the Christmas tree because my wife always suggests doing it exactly one weekend before I’m ready to do so, and that was last weekend.

“I don’t bother with Christmas trees”, states a colleague of mine, between one drag of a cigarette and the next. It’s break-time at EC, and we’re standing outside the café. He’s just asked me about my plans for next weekend. “You only have to take it all down again a month later. What’s the point?” he adds.

I don’t subscribe to his point of view.

“Why bother putting on underpants?” I respond, by way of making a point. “You only have to take them off again at the end of the day”.

“That”, he says, stubbing his cigarette out in a nearby ashtray, “is something completely different. Underpants serve a practical purpose. And it only takes two minutes to put them on. A Christmas tree is more trouble than it’s worth, it takes forever and a day to get it all sorted, and it serves no practical purpose whatsoever”.

Yep, these are the matters of extreme importance that qualified English teachers discuss during their break...underpants and Christmas trees. A couple of students walk by, and, we subtly switch to a discussion on the finer points of the gerund and the infinitive before we lose all credibility.

But, as I head back to class, I’m still thinking of Christmas trees...

The association of the fir tree with Christianity began, apparently, a thousand years ago in Germany. It is said (although by whom I haven’t a clue) that St Boniface – the guy who converted the German people to Christianity – once came across a group of pagans worshipping an oak tree and, feeling a bit miffed at the sight, promptly cut it down. Where he got the strength to chop down a mighty oak from, why he happened to be carrying around an axe capable of doing so, and why the pagans didn’t immediately leap upon him in anger and rip him to pieces, is something that the legend doesn’t see fit to go into, but anyway...St Boniface was subsequently amazed when a young fir tree sprung up from the roots and he took this as a sign of the Christian faith. As you do.

Years later, the Germans and Scandinavians decided to drag fir trees indoors as a symbol of light in the dark of winter, life in the season of death, and hope for the forthcoming spring. And then some bright spark (legend names Martin Luther here) came up with the idea of decorating his tree with candles, in honour of Christ’s birth.

And ever since then, as Christmas comes around once again, people all over the world spend a day fluffing out branches, untangling fairy lights and doing unspeakable things to tree-topping angels in order to ensure that they stay firmly fixed to the top of the tree.

You can tell a lot about the people who make up a household by the Christmas tree they choose to decorate it with. My best friend, for example, is a very busy bank manager who is always in a hurry and doesn’t have the time to mess about with fairy lights and tinsel. As a result, his Christmas tree is a thin, white conical affair that can be rigged up in two shakes and comes ready-decorated with baubles and built-in flashing lights. He put it up the other day in the time it took to boil the kettle for a cup of extra-strong coffee. Come January, a push of a button reduces it to a neat compact little package about the size of a toilet-brush, and into the box it goes, along with everything else remotely Christmassy. Last year he accidentally packed away his youngest son, who happened to be wearing a Father Christmas hat at the time. As soon as he discovered his mistake, he quickly and efficiently punched a couple of air-holes into the box, and hurried off to work...

My brother-in-law, on the other hand, is not too busy but too laid-back. His Christmas tree, when he can be bothered to put it up at all, consists of a branch with a forlorn ball hanging off it and a string of lights draped over it, which lazily flash twice before calling it a day and not coming on again until April. Eventually, it ends up in the fireplace...fairy lights, ball and all.

My mother is a bit of a perfectionist. At her house, the tree stands tall and proud with all the baubles spread out at equal distances from each other, with the smaller balls at the top flowing down in order of size to the huge globes at the bottom. The angel on top of the tree is Gabriel himself, because no lesser angel will do. The lights march on and off around the tree with military precision. Visitors are forced to wash their eyeballs with soap and water before they’re allowed into the living-room to look at it.

And then there’s our tree. My wife and I decorate it together, so it looks a bit schizophrenic. Her side of the tree is colour-coded, with red and gold balls strategically placed next to each fairy light for maximum glow. Red bows fill in the gaps. It’s so perfect that it looks like CGI. My side of the tree, on the other hand, looks like it was personally delivered to our door by a hurricane. This is because my part of the tree is usually the part that no one gets to see anyway because it’s wedged into the corner of the room in order to leave space for other stuff like the TV, the sofas… and us.

So next weekend we’re going to put up the Christmas tree. Partly because it’s family tradition, partly because we like it, partly because we need something to put the Christmas presents under and partly because it will give us some much-needed storage space in the box-room under the stairs, if only for a couple of weeks.

But mostly...the real reason I want the tree up...the most important reason of all… is because, when I told my two-and-a-half-year-old son that we weren’t going to put the tree up last weekend, his face fell and he said ‘awww’ in such a disappointed way, rising intonation and all, that...well...it’s just not the same as pulling on a pair of underpants after all.

Have a good one.

By Danny, teacher at EC Malta English language school