Melania Trump has officially killed the twig tree. Silver-sprayed sparse branches were until recently a winning festive look – minimalist-Narnia vibes, a bit abstract, perfect for the Cos-wearer who doesn’t do tinsel – but this year’s Miss Havisham’s attic-themed White House corridor has seen to that. A tunnel of spiky white twigs with all the cosiness of that camping trip from the Blair Witch Project, complete with a lighting concept seemingly based on holding a torch under your chin to freak your little sister out, the Trump twigs went viral as the most joyless decor the White House has ever seen.
On the other hand, hygge is very last year. Curling up in a pair of cable-knit socks, with a spice-scented candle and an earthenware mug of herbal tea prettily arranged on your mid-century sideboard – just next to the bell jars full of shells collected on meditative winter walks – is unspeakably basic in 2017.
Does this really matter? Of course not. You know it, I know it. We’re not fools. But do we care about how our Christmas looks? Of course we do. It’s part of the fun. Keeping up with the Joneses is as much a festive tradition as a Christmas tree. (The Christmas tree itself, in fact, caught on in this country when aspirational Britons copied the fir trees that German-born Prince Albert imported to Windsor Castle in the 1840s.)
The fashionable Christmas starts promptly on 1 December. Hard to believe that Advent calendars were once about poking a finger into a cardboard box for the thrill of looking at a badly printed picture of an angel – how easily pleased we once were! – for such innocent days are long gone. Children, frankly, are the least spoilt catchment area here. A chocolate snowman a day is positively restrained in comparison with the adult versions of luxury Advent calendar, in which each day starts with a tiny bottle of designer fragrance or a miniature of single malt whisky.
If you haven’t figured out how to hang your tree upside down, as per Karl Lagerfeld’s topsy-turvy Claridge’s tree, don’t panic. Focus on your front-door wreath instead, which for festive overachievers is now almost as important as the tree itself. The wreath-making workshop is the new homemade biscuits as charming edible gifts, which was itself the new making your own Christmas pudding. The wreath on the front door can be conceptual if you like – sprout wreath, anyone? – but a route-one, Home Alone-house-style wreath, complete with lurid green foliage and tartan ribbon, holds a nostalgic appeal to children of the 90s. In an age when every man and woman is their own personal brand, it makes sense that we have graduated from getting the bus into town to look at Christmas windows to curating our own Christmas shop window at home, and putting it on Instagram. Fairy lights outside, which used to be for the neighbourhood oddball, are now de rigueur. (Just don’t get flashing ones, unless you want your entire street to hate you.) Indoors, this year’s update on the cinema-style lightbox that was under every tree last year is the make-your-own neon-sign kit, which can be crafted into whatever phrase your inner Tracey Emin desires.
Christmas used to mean just a few days around the 25th, which for many people were spent in a hermetically sealed family bubble. Now the holiday season has spilled over the edges of our holiday allowance and taken over the entire month of December; the modern Christmas has rituals and traditions around social and office life, as well as family. The “Friendsmas” WhatsApp chat on your phone (Christmas tree icon, jazz hands) pings away relentlessly. By time-honoured tradition someone will suggest ice skating, then everyone will debate the merits of rival Nordic popup eggnog bars for so long that all the eggnog bars will be booked up (possibly a blessing in disguise since no one knows what eggnog is) and you agree to go to the pub. The office Secret Santa is as much a part of the modern Christmas countdown as the last date for sending cards second-class was in the late 20th century. (This year: do not buy anything with “Keep calm and carry on” written on it. This is over. Consider a witty Christmas bauble, although in the current climate the aubergine-emoji bauble could be risky.) We probably spend more money on turkey-and-cranberry sandwiches and overpriced takeaway cups of cinnamon-themed hot beverages than on the actual turkey.
Not that even the turkey is sacred. The pendulum has swung the opposite direction from the days of the three-bird-roast, and the most fashionable Christmas dinners are vegetarian or vegan. (The hashtag #tofurkey was briefly trending on Thanksgiving.) Instead of breakfasting on chocolate coins and clementines, all the better to fetishise the turkey and roast potatoes, the modern Christmas Day has evolved under hipster influence to feature – you guessed it – brunch. Marks & Spencer are suggesting smoked salmon steeped in beetroot (millennial pink?) while Jamie Oliver has recipes for cinnamon swirls (the one element of hygge that everyone agrees is a keeper being the baked goods). Christmas dinner that doesn’t involve one person sweating over six pans while everyone else periodically walks into the kitchen, vaguely offering help before giving themselves a generous refill of prosecco and exiting? This is a new tradition we can get behind.