My Christmas Tree of Life
Andy was never big on Christmas. Early in our relationship, he suggested we escape the whole business by travelling to a city he imagined wouldn’t be big on it either, Istanbul. No sooner had we checked into our room than the bedside phone rang. It was my brother-in-law, Martin, with glad tidings of great joy. He, his partner Sue and their daughter Rachel had secretly followed Andy’s star to the East, found rooms at the same inn—indeed on the same corridor—and planned to celebrate Christmas with us.
Like many ideas that don’t look great on paper, this turned out to be an excellent one, a family get-together without any organisational stress and in a lovely place. Neither Andy nor I would ever develop an affection for Christmas traditions—in 30 years together we only once put up a Christmas tree, and only then after Paula Yates, despairing at our lack of Christmas spirit, dispatched it to our flat, fully decorated, in the back of a cab. We did, however, come to value the prompt to spend time with the people we loved, all the more so as our lovely dead multiplied.
Christmas 1996 we spent with Paula and her daughters and her beloved Michael Hutchence. The following year, we comforted her. Another few years and we mourned her. Another decade and we grieved for her daughter Peaches.
I think of a Christmas with my friend Sara, her last. She was one of the greatest cooks I ever knew, but already too ill to manage more than a few forkfuls of the spread her children prepared in tribute to her.
Christmas 2019 felt strange. My stepfather John had died three days earlier. Andy appeared subdued, present yet otherworldly, much as he will be tomorrow, my third Christmas without him. Nor have the losses stopped. Last year, I Zoomed on Boxing Day with Martin, Sue and Rachel and her young son. On December 27th, Rachel failed to wake up.
This may sound like a litany of sorrow, and of course it is, yet more than that, it’s one of love and gratitude. These lovely dead enriched the world—and they continue to do so.
As I prepare to host Christmas dinner for family and friends, I’ve put up my second-ever Christmas tree. The star on the top looks back at me, a little stern perhaps, but then, as he and I came to realise, Christmas is worth taking seriously. Already I've devoted hours to chopping, mixing, simmering and baking with one goal in mind: that my guests and I should make merry this Christmas, fully and fiercely enjoying the time we have with each other.
Words and photo ©Catherine Mayer 2022