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The Tribes

What Your Christmas Tree Says About You

Whether it’s mood-boarded, minimalist or monstrous, the way you decorate your tree reveals more than you thought

Like child labour and pornography, the Christmas tree only really got into its stride in the latter half of the 19th century. Before then, the practice of hacking down a fir and installing it in one’s living room every December was a custom only really observed in Germany. But then Queen Victoria did it, so everyone else had to, which brings us to today’s state of affairs: ongoing, heartwarming deforestation.

Of course, in many ways, the contemporary Christmas tree is far superior to its ancestors – it’s unlikely, for example, that you will set yourself on fire while lighting the candles these days, although according to the British National Health Service, more than 350 people are injured by Christmas tree lights (and the putting up thereof) each year. It’s also now a rather more egalitarian custom than of yore – as late as the early 1900s, only wealthy and aristocratic Brits had a Christmas tree, leading to the establishment of London’s “Poor Children’s Yuletide Association”, which erected the things in deprived boroughs so the little mites could catch a glimpse of one – definitely more useful than, say, food.

Unfortunately, though everyone now has the power to wield a Christmas tree, thanks to the more than 50 million a year produced within Europe alone, not everyone does so wisely when it comes to size, decoration, and timing. Scroll down for a rundown of the decorating tribes.

THE FRIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS

Some things are just so special you want to hand them down to the next generation. Mostly, the next generation are really just interested in property, Rolexes and diamonds, but unfortunately they often receive big boxes of baubles, stale strings of popcorn, hand-knitted angels and salt-dough stars instead. In your case, these decorations, cobbled together in the 1950s when there were no garden centres or Amazon, are imbued with such a sense of fuzzy nostalgia that you feel an ironclad obligation to whip them out every December – no matter how mouldy and depressing they have become. It’s horribly unhygienic behaviour, and the resulting tree looks a total fright, but there’s no point in trying to tell you that, with your dusty festive perma-grin and moth-eaten old Christmas sweater, that’s how you do it, and how you’ve always done it. Let’s just hope the hacking coughs and wheezing don’t spoil all the Christmas carols.

THE MINIMALIST-MAS TREE

Christmas is jolly. Christmas is flashy. Christmas is sparkly. The one thing it is not is tasteful, but you, some sort of graphic designer, or art critic, or other more-minimal-than-thou type, refuse to submit to the bludgeoning obviousness of this fact, and have turned your tree into a vehicle of aesthetic protest. Perhaps it’s not even a tree, but a triangular prism of Mr Dan Flavin-style tube lights, or a single metal pole with a bulb on the top, or a bunch of wizened branches, arranged in the Japanese ikebana style, and decorated with a single transparent sphere. In any case, while you’ll feel a warm-and-fuzzy feeling (of superiority), everyone else is likely to be be left cold by this austere piece of nonsense, and will probably leave your festive wine-and-canapes thing (which feels like a shop opening) early, to go somewhere more fun. Oh well, more vol-au-vents for you.

THE TRUNK SHOW

You are clearly overcompensating for something. That’s almost too obvious to even bother saying. So let’s just muse upon the fact that, while it’s impressive to have a very tall tree in your home, it’s much more impressive to have an enormous home to put it in. The former, without the latter, isn’t impressive at all. In fact, it’s a little bit sad, no matter how much fun the children have playing Narnia as they get lost in the mess of branches that used to be known as your living room. If you are lucky enough to have a grand atrium in which to store such things as a 12ft fir tree, then good for you, you’ve nailed the holiday. It’s just a shame it makes all those expensive presents look so teeny tiny.

THE TREE-ING TOO HARD

You already live in a world of fuschia swags, Matégot tapestries, marble fireplaces and darling pre-Colombian statuettes (all of which you bought because they were in The World Of Interiors), so it only seems natural to you that you should extend such care to your Christmas tree. “Stardust and Diamonds”, “An Yves Klein Christmas” and “Gold, Frankincense and (Walnut) Burr” are all names you auditioned for this year’s mood board, but in the end it was all getting a bit ridiculous, so you settled for a simple rationale: six tonal colour swatches, two metallics, three bauble sizes and an understated astrological theme. Of course, by the time you got all this sorted, you’d wasted about 76 hours of your life and now are so utterly exhausted that you can barely do anything but stare, glittery-eyed at your tree’s majestic splendour, as all your other beautiful, useless things tower above you.

THE FAKE PLASTIC TREE

At a certain point, you just decided that a synthetic tree was just a more convenient, environmentally friendly and clean option. This point came shortly after you swapped regular food for nutrition shakes (to save time), started drinking red wine through a straw (to keep your teeth clean), and wrapped every piece of furniture in your apartment in cling film (to save all the vacuuming). You might as well go the whole hog this holiday and take the wrapping paper off the presents with a pair of tweezers, pull your crackers with a welding mask on and erect a sign kindly asking Santa to take his boots off as he plunges down the chimney. Congratulations on being so squeaky clean and sparkly. Oh, and also, ruining Christmas.

THE FIR-IN-ADVANCE

There’s nothing particularly remarkable about this tree, apart from the fact that it arrives in late November, rudely interrupting everyone’s Thanksgiving dinner, and sits sullenly in the corner of the room with a sort of “what am I doing here?” look to it. Presumably, if you are responsible for its presence, you’re also the type of person who likes to do a bundle of awful things such as queueing up overnight outside the Apple Store, inviting people over more than a month in advance (how on earth is anyone supposed to reasonably refuse?), and buying all your presents in July (meaning no one can take them back). In racing, your sociopathic behaviour would be called “jumping the gun”, but unfortunately there’s no equivalent umpire to disqualify you from the festive season, so your punishment will have to be the grim sight, come 24 December, of your exhausted tree’s dingy brown needles dropping flakily to the floor, as fragile and futile as time itself. You’ll enter 2017 safe in the knowledge that you’ve taught all the all the kids gathered round the fire the true meaning of Christmas: everything dies.

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