The toddlers may now be teenagers, but a tradition started by two harassed mums continues to give joy…
The winter woods beckoned. A light dusting of snow lingered in the depths of the undergrowth. Liz and Amy could not help grinning as they watched their posse of student daughters lope so easily up the hill in front of them.
It was good to hear them all laughing together, ponytails swinging, mobile phones rammed tightly into the back pockets of their jeans.
The holly walk had been part of their Christmas ritual for as long as Liz could remember.
It was Amy’s idea initially, she recalled.
They were new friends then and both had a houseful of toddlers, all driving them to distraction.
Liz had rung Amy at breakfast time after a particularly bad night, where she had been up and down at least twice to both her daughters. One was teething, the other simply refused to settle.
Liz was desperate for adult company and the chance to escape the house, whatever the weather. Otherwise she wasn’t sure she could answer for her sanity.
“You’ve heard the carols. Let’s deck the halls with boughs of holly and whatever else we find,” Amy declared.
“I’ve got secateurs,” she added, ever the practical one. “You bring baskets.
“The girls are bound to sleep better tonight if we can wear them out on your hill.”
Amy had been right, of course, and the rescue therapy turned into a favourite Christmas walk.
These days the girls wielded the secateurs and were much more daring about reaching for the highest branches.
The competition was on to find holly sprigs with the best berries attached.
“This one will be perfect for the Christmas pudding, Mum,” Amy’s youngest daughter, Polly, called out gleefully.
There were shrieks of amusement as the branch she was balancing on snapped and Polly landed, unhurt, in the muddiest puddle.
“Time to head home, I think.”
Liz raised a quizzical eyebrow as Polly transferred most of the mud to Amy’s new red coat as she helped her up.
Polly attempted to apologise, glancing mournfully at her jeans. Mortified, she seized the holly basket her mother held and marched off to rejoin the others.
“Why is it always one of mine who gets soaked?” Amy groaned. She attempted to clean her dirty sleeve with a glove.
“What you need is a nice glass of mulled wine at my house,” Liz consoled her, joining in the brushing. “A good dose of Christmas spirit.”
Amy grinned and slipped her arm through her friend’s as they followed Polly back down the slippery footpath.
“Leave your wellies outside!” Liz shouted just in time, as Sophie, her eldest, reached for the handle of the front door.
Luckily her husband, Steve, had the pan of mulled wine on the hob. The comforting scent of spice and orange wafted through the warm kitchen.
He ladled them each a glass and they collapsed in the chairs by the fire.
The girls swiftly monopolised the sitting room next door, swiping the plate of chocolate biscuits on their way.
Liz checked the Christmas goodies she had tucked away in her secret cupboard. She gave a whoop of glee when she discovered a whole tin of cinnamon stars.
With a house full of hungry students, it was usually safest to hide her favourites.
The afternoon was growing dark by the time Amy and her family left.
Liz and Steve waved them off and did a perfunctory tidy up so they could get down to the serious business of decorating.
“I got the boxes down from the attic while you were out,” Steve said. “And I managed to fix the tree into our old stand.”
Liz stepped back to admire it.
The branches looked lovely in the firelight, even without their ornaments. She could smell the heavy scent of fresh pine where Steve had trimmed them.
Decorating the tree felt more like a treasure hunt than an artistic endeavour to Liz.
All the baubles and ornaments, hastily wrapped in tissue paper in January, were revealed and spread across coffee tables for selection.
Old and fragile, glitzy or just plain silly, they each had their memories.
She enjoyed watching her daughters place their favourites on the tree with exaggerated delicacy.
Meanwhile Steve searched for carols to play. The holly on window ledges and picture frames was the final touch.
The girls drifted upstairs. Liz switched off the sitting room light.
The tree-lights glowed like tiny stars and drew Liz back down the tunnel of the years to her own childhood.
She smiled. You never got too old for the magic of Christmas.
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