When should you put up your Christmas tree? We have only just passed the landmark of Gaudete Sunday, but several people I know, all, it is true, with young children, have put their trees up and decorated them. When, for that matter, should you put up your crib? When I was a child both went up on the 20th December, simply because that was the first day of the school holidays, and cribs and Christmas trees were very much the preserve of the youngest member of the family – me. Indeed, if it had not been for the tyranny of youth, there would have been no Christmas tree at all: my mother thought Christmas trees were in bad taste, and while she allowed a Christmas tree every year (though grudgingly as I grew older) she flatly refused to allow the house to be hung with paper chains, tinsel and other bits of seasonal tat.
Of course we had a real tree, and we would cut it down ourselves: quite a big deal in Malta, which is a rather treeless place. We would usually do our best to take only part of an evergreen, not a whole tree, though I suppose even this practice is pretty unenvironmental. I doubt the patron saint of ecology, St Francis, would have approved.
But he would have like the crib, which he himself invented, after all. I had lots and lots of pasturi (crib figurines , literally, “shepherds”) all made of clay, some of them sculpted by hand, beautiful examples of naïf folk art, made by an old man in the village of Qrendi. He must be long dead, and his skills may have died with him. My crib figures are wrapped away and in storage, where I am not quite sure. But how I would love to see them again.
Alas, nothing is as irrecoverable as the spirit of Christmasses past! I am doing my best to encourage all the children I meet to make their own cribs, remembering the joy it gave me. A proper crib should be made out of papier-mâché, and its construction will keep a small person busy for hours, and of course you have to make a new one every year, bigger and better than the last. I shall never have such joy again, but it would be some consolation if children today could feel now what I once felt then!