Our tree wasn't real, except it was for me, in that it was the only Christmas tree we ever had and so was the only real tree at Christmas. I remember that I felt a little sad for those poor souls who didn't have the benefit of our perfect tree. It was perfect because it never changed, so it really was Christmas. Unpacking it (we stored in in a little sort of suitcase) was predictably joyful and exciting in equal measures. The ornaments never changed - now it occurs to me that these must have been bought when I was baby, or even earlier, because we never bought any new ones that I can remember, ever. I could see those ornaments with stunning clarity yesterday, not quite what you expect to be looking at in a shopping mall in the capital of Malaysia. I could almost feel myself holding again the two tiny toy trees we used to stand at the base of the tree, unfurling their wire branches, and placing between them the plastic pointed crib, dusted with plastic snow, with the baby Jesus and Mary and Joseph inside.
The year Dad died we didn't unpack the tree, and never did again. It remained in its case in the shed in the backyard at Gresham Street disregarded for years and I don't know what became of it. It was Mum who didn't want it out, and we never put up a Christmas tree again, though we enjoyed the real big ones that Maureen had every year. That was enough. I never questioned Mum as to why she didn't want it out, assuming we were on rather dangerous emotional ground, and I was too old to be unduly bothered. In fact, it was the right thing to do, in retrospect. A wonderful part of life was over, couldn't be brought back, and it would have been foolish to do so. And there were to be some fine old times to be lived out ahead of us.
Touchingly the next time I saw a tree at Christmas in Mum's place was in the flat in Hyde when we took Fifi there in December a few years ago. A tiny one appeared in the living room, just in front of the electric fire. I think Mum thought that with a kid in the house some sort of tree was a necessity, though with this child the tree was, of course, quite pointless.
I don't get sentimental about Christmases long gone. They were wonderful, and I am deeply grateful for them, but they are over and there is too much to celebrate about living today to feel any sense of yearning. I was incredibly lucky to have had that tree though.