Sunday 24 December 2023


 IF CHRISTMAS TREES COULD TALK (the revised version December 2023)

By Maggie Knutson

As a late December sun was gracefully sinking below the village church opposite their cosy little cottage, Edith and Isabel were putting the final touches to their Christmas tree. 

“That looks grand,” Edith said, and she gave her sister an affectionate hug. 

“Now we've got to see this from outside,” Isabel urged and despite the cold, they rushed out to have a look.

 They were pleased with what they saw: the tree nestling prettily in the window alcove of their front room. 

“If anyone was passing by,” Isabel asked, “what would our tree tell them about us?”

“Well,” Edith deliberated, “ the occupants have wonderfully artistic taste and . . . ”

“ . . . don't like hoovering,” Isabel added, “because the tree is artificial!” 

The two giggled like school-children as they made their way inside.

“I never thought I'd be happy again after Henry died,” Edith confided in her sister. 

“Nor me with Norman,” Isabel sighed, and the two sisters shared a sad moment remembering their much loved husbands. 

It was Isabel who broke the mood. “This is our chance of a new start and it's going to be just fine and dandy. So come on, let's have supper and afterwards we're going to do some detective work.”

“Detective work?” Edith asked, intrigued by the suggestion.

“We're going to wrap up warmly and take a walk around the village,  unashamedly window-gazing to guess what other people's Christmas trees tell us about them.”

Edith chuckled. “Now that sounds a lot of fun . . .  just as long as we don't get arrested as potential burglars!”

“Two senior citizens taking an evening stroll?” Isabel queried. “I very much doubt it.  Although,” she added mischievously, “stranger things have happened.”

Meanwhile, three doors away, Beth was just taking the Christmas cake out of the oven when Leo stomped into the kitchen. 

“I don't believe it,” he grumbled. “You know how this tree is supposed to keep its needles on. Well, it jolly well doesn't.

“I've just taken the webbing off and most of the needles fell onto the floor, so now the tree's practically bare.”

Beth placed the cake carefully on the cooling rack and turned to face her irate husband. 

“Oh dear, let's have a look,” she said, lacing her arm around Leo's waist.  

As soon as they walked into the front room, Beth started to laugh. “You're right, it looks as if the tree's been dive-bombed by a crazy bird.”

Leo began to see the funny side too. “As soon as I touched it, what looked like spiky green snow hurtled downwards, and now we've got a green forest on our new carpet.”

“I'm sure the garden centre will change it,” Beth reasoned.  “Let's leave it here overnight and you can take it back tomorrow.”

“What would I do without you?” Leo said affectionately, kissing his wife on the top of her head. 

“I dread to think,” she teased. “Now come and have a look at my Christmas cake. I think it's going to be my best yet.”

Having been fortified by Edith's steak and kidney pudding, Isabel and Edith strolled around the village arm-in-arm. 

Most people had their Christmas trees in their front rooms so the sisters had plenty to assess. 

“This is such fun,” Edith said as they came full circle back to their own street. “What a good idea this was of yours, Isabel. Don't all these beautiful trees come into their own when it's dark outside. The village looks quite magical.

“And what a surprise,” she added. “Just like snowflakes, every Christmas tree is different.”

“Yes,” Isabel replied, “although I can definitely see a pattern emerging.”

Edith laughed. “You might be retired now, Isabel, but once a teacher always a teacher. So go on, tell me about these patterns.”

“First we have the neat and tidy trees with just the right number of decorations. They tell us that their owners are very organised with everything in its right place. If they have children, they certainly don't rule the roost.

“Then there are the trees brimming over with home-made decorations and smothered with tinsel. These are obviously family homes. Untidy and noisy, but full of love.

“Next are the small artificial trees with a minimum of decorations, rather like ours. These are people who don't like a lot of bother at Christmas . . . ”

“ . . . or,” Edith chuckled, “Senior Citizens like us, so they're bound to be very nice people.” 

“And lastly,” Isabel said, with some irritation in her voice, “there are the trees with flashing lights, which make me feel quite giddy. 

“The people inside are very thoughtless. They forget that they aren't the only ones to see their trees, and not everyone likes flashing lights.”

“That's a bit harsh,” Edith responded, and then, after a pause, “but very true.”

“I think we've had a most productive walk,” Isabel said, “but now it's time to head home and back into the warmth.”

But the two sisters stopped short when they reached Leo and Beth's home, just a few cottages away from their own.

“Oh dear,” said Isabel. “This is a most unusual tree and it certainly doesn't fit into any of my categories. 

“It looks like it was once a Christmas tree, but there are hardly any pine needles on it and absolutely no sign of any decorations.”

“Perhaps they'll decorate the tree later,” Edith suggested, “although they'll find it difficult to find anything to hang their decorations on.”

“Quite so,” Isabel said. “I think we deserve a large mug of hot chocolate after all our detective work.” 

“Perhaps with a dribble of brandy?” Edith suggested. “It is Christmas after all.”

The next day, a jubilant Leo arrived home from the garden centre and headed straight for the back of the cottage, carrying a brand new Christmas tree. 

Beth saw him from the kitchen window and popped out to greet him. “I see you had a successful trip,” she said.

“I did indeed.” Leo said. “They couldn't have been nicer. They gave me this tree and suggested I stand it in a bucket of water and leave it over-night outside. 

“Since there'll be a frost tonight, I'll put it in the back porch so at least it has some protection.”

“What will we do with the skeleton tree?” Beth asked.

“It's going by the dustbin at the side of the cottage,” Leo said firmly, “so we don't have to look at it. The garden centre said that they'll pick up both trees in January. 

“I was very lucky,” he added. “This was the last tree they had left.”

As Leo dealt with both trees, Beth topped her Christmas cake with a rich layer of golden marzipan. 

Then she went outside again and hugged her husband. “I couldn't be happier,” she murmured, breathing in the comforting smell of his jumper which was infused with the fresh smell of pine. 

She looked up at him, her eyes shining with excitement. “It's our first Christmas in our new home and it's all going so well. Apart, of course, from the tree!”

That evening, Edith and Isabel took another stroll around the village before settling down for some festive evening television. Passers-by exchanged greetings and the two sisters were beginning to feel less like newcomers.

But when they came to Leo and Beth's cottage, they stopped in dismay.

“This is ridiculous!” Isabel exclaimed, as they stared at the empty front room and the abandoned Christmas tree outside next to a bin. “Who in their right mind would do such a thing?” 

“Deary me,” Edith said with a sigh. “I do hope everything's alright.”

The next afternoon, Leo took the new tree into the front room and gingerly took the protective netting off. He breathed a big sigh of relief. 

“Beth,” he called, “this tree looks to be okay. The needles are most definitely staying on.”

“Good,” Beth replied as she applied stiff white icing sugar onto the cake. 

But then she heard a wailing noise which had her rushing into the front room, fearful that Leo had seriously hurt himself. 

“Are you alright, Leo?” she cried, but then she stopped in her tracks. The tree was tilting at a dangerous angle with Leo desperately hanging onto it to prevent it toppling over. 

“The trunk is too thick to stay in the tripod,” he gasped, exhausted by the effort he was exerting.

“Lean it against the window,” Beth suggested. 

“Good thinking,” he replied, and with some careful manoeuvring he managed to do just that and was able to let the tree go.

Beth stood by his side and the two surveyed the scene.

“It looks like a ship's mast in a storm,” Beth said. “We really aren't having much luck with our trees.”

Leo started to grin. “Maybe not but I'm not going to let this one get the better of me. I'll tackle it tomorrow when I'm not so dog-gone tired.”

There was a full moon as Isabel and Edith embarked upon their now regular evening walk. It was like a friendly face beaming down at them and they felt full of Christmas good will. 

But when they reached Leo and Beth's cottage, that warm, cheery feeling evaporated.

“This really does take the biscuit, Edith,” Isabel grumbled. “That's definitely a Christmas tree in their front room but it's leaning against the window and, I might add, without decorations.”

“Perhaps whoever lives here is an artist,” Edith speculated. “One of those modern ones who like to make a dramatic statement.”

“Or a lunatic,” Isabel retorted. “It's making me feel quite unsettled. What we need is a hot chocolate with a hearty dose of brandy. That will certainly do the trick, but I hardly dare think about what we'll see here tomorrow.”

The next day was Christmas Eve. Whilst Leo was cutting the tree trunk so that it fitted snugly into the tripod, Beth lovingly positioned a small Santa on a sleigh, surrounded by holly, on the top of her cake. 

Then together they hung little wooden Christmas figures evenly around the tree. Leo wound a simple string of white lights over the branches and, finally, right at the top of the tree, Beth placed a radiant angel in white and gold with a silver star above her head.

“Simple but beautiful,” was Beth's verdict. “And we've done it, we've actually finished our tree just in time for Christmas.”

That evening Isabel and Edith were beaming with delight as they looked upon the transformed Christmas tree.

“It's stunning,” Edith said, feeling more than a little emotional. 

“Who'd have believed it?” Isabel murmured softly. “It's perfect.”

At that very moment, Leo opened the front door.

“Can I help you?” he asked, perhaps a little sharper than he intended.

“Oh dear,” Edith replied, embarrassment flushing from her neck into her face.

“We didn't mean to be rude looking into your room. We live a few doors away and we were admiring your beautiful Christmas tree. Those little figures are exquisite. We've never seen anything like them before.” 

Now it was Leo's turn to feel embarrassed. “That's so kind of you,” he said, a smile replacing the frown. 

“We bought them at a Christmas market in Winchester. They are rather special, aren't they. But we've had a devil of a job with our Christmas trees. Thankfully, we got this one ready in time.”

“Is that so,” Isabel uttered innocently.

Beth was now at the front door.

“Did I hear nice things about our tree?”

“It is truly beguiling,” Edith said with passion.

“Why don't you come inside and try out my Christmas cake?” Beth suggested. “And perhaps a sherry to go with it?”

“Good idea,” Leo agreed, basking in all the praise.

“Aren't you too busy?” Isabel asked. “We don't want to impose.” Although the idea did sound very tempting.

“We've just moved here,” Beth explained, “so it'll be nice to get to know some of our neighbours.” 

“And we've just moved here, too,” both sisters said in unison.

“Well, that settles it,” Leo said. “Let the Christmas celebrations begin.”

As they made their way inside, Isabel whispered to Edith, “Absolutely no mention about our crazy speculations!”

“Just goes to show,” Edith whispered back, “how easy it is to jump to the wrong conclusions. But it was grand while it lasted.”

On their way home, Edith asked Isabel, “So what's Leo and Beth's Christmas tree telling us now?”

Isabel thought about it for a while and then answered, “That tree is telling us that it's very lucky to be upright.”

And the two chuckled happily, knowing that this was going to be a very special Christmas. 

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