Tradition and my late mother dictate that I should be taking down my Christmas decorations tomorrow night. For, lo! It’s Twelfth Night, or the Eve of the Feast of the Epiphany. Yet here I am, twisting a new set of LED lanterns round my bannisters, having already decked my bed’s headboard with a twinkling string of golden filigree leaf lights.
The tree has been disrobed (the baubles needed saving from the cat as much as anything else), but it’s still standing in our kitchen. I’m thinking of decking it out with antibacterial masks, linguine loops and loo roll for the plague months ahead. And the gaudy wreath on my door is still firmly in place.
Usually I make a tasteful ivy garland by hand and my sons bemoan the lack of glitter. But this year’s one was donated by a friend and came decked out with golden baubles, tinsel and two sets of flashing lights. It is a thing of wonder and cheers me up every time I return home.
My general mood could be summed up as: “Covid can snaffle parties, pubs, travel, extended family and my January birthday, but over my cold dead body will it snatch fairy lights and festive garlands.” I was raised to think only crazy folk kept their Christmas decor up after Jan 5, but this year it feels like a sane response to a demented world.
Never have so many people been in such urgent need of extended Yuletide joy as they find themselves on house arrest once more. A quick cycle round the streets in Cambridge shows many locals are on the same page: with windows, trees and hedges still ablaze with festive lights. And who’s going to take down their Christmas cards when many are just arriving, due to December’s slowed-down postal service?
The good news is that keeping your house festooned isn’t as unlucky as some people fear. It was only in the 19th century that Britons started festooning Christmas trees and then dismantling all their decorations on Twelfth Night (doubtless spurred on by all those dropped needles). Before that, merry-makers took swathes of greenery and berries into their houses and tended to keep them there until Candlemas on Feb 2.
This stemmed from the pagan belief you should shelter the tree and hedge spirits from the worst winter storms before taking them outside to ensure regrowth and healthy crops. Who wants to be the cruel Grinch who throws the Holly and Ivy gods into the January blizzards?
The Kent-based interior, product and event stylist Hannah Bullivant, whose blog and social media posts attract thousands of followers, teaches clients how to make their homes “soulful” by staying in tune with the seasons. In January this means keeping key festive pieces in place and trying to maintain a little magic. Bullivant posted on Instagram: “I’ll remove my beloved Christmas branch and the baubles… But I’ll be keeping the wreaths up, the little bottles of evergreen, the fairy lights and candles too.”
When I talked to Bullivant yesterday she pointed out branches and greenery “continue to honour the season”, while wreaths “symbolise the cycle of life and the turn of the seasons, so can work all year round”. When I gazed at the gorgeous wreath she’d posted on Instagram – a fairy concoction of dried twigs, reeds, fir cones and foliage – I thought I’d probably keep it up all decade.
Bullivant is also a big fan of bringing bunches of fresh herbs into your house, citing thyme and rosemary in the Age of Covid for their fresh scent and antibacterial properties.
Alison Carter, who runs her own interiors studio Alison Carter Design, says that as families spend more time together over lockdown there’s more emphasis on the dining table as the beating heart of the family’s celebrations.. She cited the rise in Britain of US phenomenon, “the tablescape”, where dining tables are themed and decked-out to the nines and you might see Christmas décor extended to New Year and early birthdays.
Mrs Alice (AKA Alice Naylor-Leyland) is the queen of this genre and her website offers a lavish array of winter scenarios – The Enchanted Forest, Swan Lake and First Noel – and I could quite see it might be hard to put your owls, deer, swans and toadstools back in the attic until you’ve had a good, two-month play with them.
Of course, some people have been in 12-month-Christmas mode for years. The crime author Christobel Kent, who’s known for her immaculate sense of style, festoons her house with handmade ivy garlands for her annual Christmas party and then leaves them up all year – only “chucking them on the fire on the day of next year’s bash,” where they blaze in brief glory.
She continues cheerfully, “Sometimes I have been known to have three years’ worth of mistletoe up at once – just to improve my chances of a Christmas kiss. It turns a kind of luminous, ghostly yellow which is quite striking.”
I must confess my mistletoe is staying for precisely the same reason. One of this household’s most cheerful rituals is when my husband and I find ourselves under the generous bunch, with its scarlet bow, and exchange a kiss.
As Hannah Bullivant said at the end of our conversation, “I think this is going to be one of the most depressing Januarys in history. So people need to hang on to anything in their homes that gives sparkle, cheer and joy in a potentially joyless month.” The tree spirits would surely agree.