It’s Christmas tree day at our house. Up it goes. And out they come from boxes, from last year’s newspaper, the decorations and baubles we’ve collected over the years. Some of them the naïve creations the kids made that now embarrass yet please them in equal measures. The vintage ones I have picked up, because there’s nothing quite like glass for glistering. I cannot imagine buying a new set, a replacement ‘colour scheme’ every year. It doesn’t chime with today’s need to be eco-conscious, but, more than anything, there are memories in those cardboard boxes.
Some are from places we’ve travelled. I try to buy a new decoration from each place. There’s the little Hema grachtenpand from our trip to Amsterdam just this year, and a terracotta house from Greece; then the wooden ones from Germany and Czechia; a porcelain one from Paris, elegant, of course, next to something glitzier from New York; then a sleepy Egyptian camel. Others are from here in the UK. Most are from Europe, in fact. It’s the destination I have been able to afford in recent years—lucky to be able to afford that, I know, to have taken the children to some of these places.
The Christmas tree, as any school pupil here will know, was popularised by Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert, in the 1840s. Though some say it was imported by Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, years earlier. Whatever the case, it is a European tradition we have all taken up with delight.
My passport runs out in a couple of months. I have no current travel plans for 2020, though we’re assured that in the year post Brexit, there will be few immediate differences. After that, who knows? Still, I will be applying for a new one. I have possessed a passport all my adult life, cannot imagine not doing so. If it weren’t for our proximity to the rest of Europe, not to mention the relative ease of travel in being—having been—in the European Union, I wonder if that would have been as much of a given.
It will be navy blue, I guess, my new passport. Like they used to be, supposedly, in some rose-tinted good old days. This seems to matter an awful lot to some people, a symbol, I guess. Matters to them in a similar way to the sovereignty and democratic powers that we never actually lost. A quote from actor, writer, and director David Schneider on Twitter: ‘On passports, I still think the best idea is to let people choose their own colour: Maroon [EU] passports = you can continue to travel freely, live and work across Europe. Blue [UK] passport = you cannot do any of that but you have a blue passport.’ I wish.
And of course, in any case, it’s not ‘the same’ as before. The passports, for one thing, will be made in France, a wry joke, and will be smaller, more practical than the old cardboard covers, which were stiff as a proverbial upper lip. Is that a symbol, too? Because we won’t be the same either. I wish we could admit, as a society, what we have gained from Europe and its community—more than Christmas trees, more than holidays and travel, even more than pizza, pleasant though those elements are.
I am European (if not, then what continent am I from?), but something is ending. I don’t have to like the current situation. Much as those who insist ‘just get over it!’ refused so persistently, often noisily, over the decades, to ‘like’ the EU. But yes, it is over. The debate is done. For now, at least, and for a while yet to come.
It hurts. But we knew it was going to happen. I thought it might be a tough time of year for all this, flung fast into the ‘acceptance’ stage of grief. In the event, it’s handy, the genuine need to stand up, get on, to make a Christmas for the kids, the family.
Whatever side of any discussion you are on, Season’s Greetings, a warm and wonderful Hanukah, happy any and all of the holidays to you.