"As much as I enjoy flicking through Home Interiors magazines in WHSmith, I freeze when it comes to decorating myself."Eve Connor with permission for Varsity

There’s a bit in Handel’s ‘Messiah’ – the Hallelujah chorus – during which King George II is said to have sprung from his seat, enthralled; the audience, not wanting to offend the monarch, stood too. Over 200 years later, people continue to stand every time the Hallelujah chorus starts.

On a wet December evening in Derby Cathedral, a speaker invited us to continue the tradition. Coos rippled through the congregation, joining us for a moment in the possibility. What if nobody else stands? How will I know the right moment? Nonsensically, from my back row seat on the balcony, I was asking, If I stand too quickly, will I fall out?

None of us should have worried about missing our cue. For one thing, the Cathedral had distributed lyric booklets to follow along with, marking out the point at which we might stand, should we like to. For another, the Hallelujah chorus is the part everyone recognises. You can almost feel the collective heave of satisfaction. I was taken by the drummer, who emerged along with the trumpet players from a mysterious antechamber near the altar and took his seat just before the chorus, lowering his ear to the skin of the drum as if listening to his instrument. The chorus itself is really something. Blazing. You do want to get up from your pew.

Two men in the interval queue for the toilets got to talking. “It feels like Christmas can start now,” one said. “We come here every year.” My own traditions are less established: this is my family’s first Christmas in our new home. Mom has poured a lot of energy into recalibrating our old decorations, accrued to suit a different set of rooms, as well as sourcing new ones, three fake candles with a waxy finish and a set of string lights for the bush outside, set on a timer to switch on in the evening and early morning. We watched Love Actually, of course. Hallmark films (did anyone know Aaron Tveit plays a prince in one of them?!) and other festive flicks followed: Judy Garland’s hair is still impossibly shiny in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), and Warren Sheffield storming into the house and removing his top hat to instruct Rose that they are going to marry, then turning on his heel, hesitating, and finally pointing a white dinner glove and declaring, “I LOVE YOU” is still cinema.

The horse bauble pictured at the start of this article is the only bauble hanging on the smaller, artificial tree set up in my bedroom, a hangover from the Covid days when we couldn’t source a real one. The branches are dusted white. Splayed out, they look like fat, bristling snowflakes. We joke that being a two-tree household means we’ve “made it”. The real fir in the living room below is festooned – one of the best verbs in the English language – with silver and gold. What decorations it didn’t claim languish on my bedroom floor.

“Released into an IKEA and told to “go wild”, I am liable to lying down in the middle of the aisle and sobbing”

As much as I enjoy flicking through Home Interiors magazines in WHSmith, I freeze when it comes to decorating myself. I abandoned Animal Crossing: New Horizons once I unlocked the landscaping tool because I couldn’t settle on a vision; it’s why I’ve avoided The Sims.

I see this column as an act of curation, and the coolest essays, to my mind, put things together to see how they react. (Mary Gaitskill’s Lost Cat is wreckingly good at this.) Among the few decorations I bring with me to my uni room are a print of Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières (1884), Van Gogh’s The Bedroom (1888), and a framed Bauhaus poster gifted to me on my birthday. Each of these has some sentimental quality justifying their place, as does the lone bauble on my artificial tree, bought to match with my two friends who came to visit. But released into an IKEA and told to “go wild”, I am liable to lying down in the middle of the aisle and sobbing.


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Probably it has to do with needing to excel. I love how we invite art into our homes during the holidays and I am generally attempting to chill out and play more in my creative practice. I want living to feel like how the Boston Ballet Nutcracker Bear dances. It is up to me to decorate that tree. Frank O’Hara offers his two cents, as he so often does, out of context, this time via the last lines of his poem ‘Cambridge’: “Across the street there is a house under construction, / abandoned to the rain. Secretly, I shall go to work on it.”

If you’ll excuse me, I have some baubles to unpack.

I asked readers to submit photos of their favourite holiday decorations for inclusion in this article. Below are the naff, the beautiful, and everything else in-between. Each of them is special. Thank you, and happy holidays from Knick-knacks!

Alice Cockcroft with permission for Varsity

“This is Calver! Bought to commemorate the real cat Calver, a stray that we looked after and eventually rehomed as a uni house. We all miss him a lot, but are happy that he is off the streets and getting the help he deserves, and the decoration sits proudly on our little tree. It is also my first ever decoration on my first ever tree in a house away from home, so is extra special!” – Alice

Abbie McDonald with permission for Varsity

“Our Flat 30 Christmas cone.” – Abbie

Erin Hately with permission for Varsity

“He doesn’t have a name but he is colloquially known as ‘Christmas Cactus’ since he sings Feliz Navidad.” – Erin

Annia Krzoska with permission for Varsity

“Snowman I got for my cousin. Ukrainian handmade [...] His scarf comes off and he also has a hat. He’s so goofy. I love him.” – Annia

Emily Lawson-Todd with permission for Varsity

“I made this extremely naff nativity at age 7 out of air-dry clay because I was inspired by those Christmas craft books and not yet disillusioned by the fact that all the crafts in them are unobtainable to children because their fine motor skills haven’t really kicked in. As a result, Mary has a beard (unintentionally, though in retrospect, quite radical of Year 2 me), none of the figures stand up, and yes, that silver blob is a donkey. My parents still keep it and wheel it out every Christmas to remind me that this is the apex of my artistic career.” – Emily

Emily Lawson-Todd with permission for Varsity

“Yes, he looks cute, but this robin (in my family since 2009) is meant to sing “Jingle Bells” when you press him, except that due to age and shoddy manufacturing, he has instead been singing what sounds like “yingle biles” for the past decade or so. Every Christmas, he gets brought out, and every Christmas my family attempt to “yingle biles” one another (press the bird, and then throw it into a room where someone else is, subjecting them to 40 seconds of high-pitched singing, like a more annoying grenade). Every year we are on edge, waiting to see if we will get yingle biles-ed next.” – Emily