The Christmas tree is up and taking centre stage in Kim MacRae’s house, decorated from top to bottom with cherished baubles and twinkling lights.
Underneath there’s a sleigh full of beautifully-wrapped presents, ready to bring happiness to those receiving them.
Tinsel and items that glitter and sparkle are everywhere you look, while the sound of well-loved Christmas music fills the air.
It’s a scene replicated in households across the country as December 25 approaches.
But Kim’s home in Roy Bridge has been this way since November 15.
Making a list and checking it twice – in August
Kim, mum of one and part-time bookshop employee, admits to being slightly obsessed by Christmas and all the traditions surrounding it which help spread joy and cheer.
“I don’t know why I love Christmas so much, but I’ve been like this for as long as I can remember,” said Kim, 23.
“It’s such a nice time of year, and everyone seems that bit more jolly.
“Thinking about what I’m going to do each Christmas starts just after my birthday in July – by August I literally have a list and have checked it twice before starting to buy presents.
“Actually, that’s not quite true as I sometimes start shopping in January.
“This year, for example, I managed to buy wrapping paper in the January sales, so it cost me less than £5 to buy everything I needed!”
Kim lays the blame for her passion for the festive season at the feet of her mum, Annette, from Dornie.
“When the family lived in Skye, we always had a nicely-decorated house, but when we moved to a larger house in Dornie, mum started to go over the top with festive decorations.
“Dad would get involved too, hanging lots of coloured lights outside the house.
“You could pretty much see our house from miles away.
“Mum would wait until we’d gone to school before doing a full-on redecoration – garlands hanging from ceilings, baubles, feathers, sleighs everywhere along with a tree dripping with Disney-themed figures and baubles she bought on a regular basis throughout the year.
“My two siblings and I would come home from school to find the house had been transformed into a wonderful grotto!”
Annette’s efforts clearly left a big impression on Kim, mum to Lily, aged 19 months.
When she and her partner, Stuart Matheson, set up home together, she was excited at the prospect of making their home sparkle at Christmas.
Alas, it wasn’t to be…
“Our first home together in Fort William was a tiny bedsit so we could only fit in a 3ft tree,” said Kim.
“Spending the festive season with that little tree just didn’t feel right, it just wasn’t me, so from then on we’ve always had a really big tree.
“Ironically, for someone who loves Christmas, I’m allergic to real trees, so have to use a fake one!”
When she and Stuart moved to a bigger flat a year later, the decorations started pouring in.
Many are much-loved old decorations passed down through the generations via her nan, including one which she admits terrified her as a child.
“My favourite ornament is a large model of Santa Claus playing a saxophone, which used to burst into life and start dancing when you passed it,” she says.
“I was really scared of it when I was wee, but now it brings happy memories flooding back, and no longer scares me as the motion sensor is broken.”
It’s not unusual these days to see people post on social media footage showing huge piles of presents waiting to be unwrapped, or confessing to blowing the budget so they can shower their loved ones with expensive gifts.
But that’s not what Christmas means to Kim and Stuart.
She says: “For us it’s not about spending lots of money but being creative and giving people small, locally-bought, thoughtful presents, or hand-made gifts.
“Last year we made Christmas cards featuring Lily’s foot and hand prints which was fun to do but took far too long – plus everything in the house was covered in orange and green paint for weeks afterwards.
“But doing that created special memories, and cards, people will cherish.
“I also tried to make salt dough ornaments with Lily, but she ended up trying to eat the dough.
“Stuart and I buy each other something practical, such as electric toothbrushes, and spend just £5 on anything random so we each have a surprise present to unwrap on Christmas Day.”
Between now and December 25, knock on her door and you will often find Kim, wearing a party dress featuring candy canes, holly and ivy, dancing along to Christmas music with Lily, wearing her favourite elf-patterned dress.
The first time Kim stuck on Christmas music, Lily danced non-stop in the kitchen for about an hour, so it looks like she has inherited her mum and grandmother’s love of the season of goodwill.
A very different kind of Christmas
But thanks to Covid-19, Christmas is going to be a little different this year, for everyone.
“We normally have three Christmas Day dinners – one with friends in the run-up to Christmas, one with my parents and one with Stuart’s family,” said Kim.
“This year will obviously be a lot quieter with less chance of family get-togethers, but we’ll just have to wait and see what the rules are nearer the time. If we can’t all be together in person, we’ll try and spend the day together using Zoom, FaceTime, etc.”
After spending months building up to the big day I wondered if Kim felt deflated by the time Boxing Day arrived?
Laughing at the suggestion, she said: “No, because then you can eat everything in the fridge, as you’re no longer saving things for Christmas.
“However, I am very reluctant to take the decorations down by January 6 – there’s usually a bit of tinsel and glitter left up for a wee while afterwards, while I have a little snowman ornament which stays out all year round, just to remind me of Christmas.”
“I love, love, love, love Christmas,” says Charlotte Garvie.
She’s not kidding…
She loves the festive season so much she gave up a rewarding job working as an events organiser so she could fully immerse herself in the season of goodwill.
While for some people, the festive season should be just that – a short season – for Charlotte it’s now an absorbing and satisfying year-round job which she absolutely adores.
For the past four years she’s run a company called The Christmas Decorators, a franchise based in Aberdeenshire which aims to bring joy through Christmas transformations across the east of Scotland.
We’re not talking a few twinkly lights on a tree outside or a wreath on the door, but some huge makeovers and stunning outdoor and internal displays that could set her clients – who fully want to embrace the spirit of Christmas – back several thousand pounds.
The Christmas Decorators
She has a dedicated team of six elves, working in her workshop in Crathes, helping her come up with creative ideas throughout the year.
“It’s really when the clocks go back in autumn that I begin to get genuinely excited about Christmas.
“If I could get away with putting up my decorations then, I would,” said Charlotte, who lives in Banchory.
“When I think of Christmas I think of cosy nights and people sitting together in rooms decorated with twinkling fairy lights and trees, and generally feeling much happier.
“It feels different to other times of the year, and I think that at Christmas, people slow down and take a bit more time to enjoy things.
“I’ve always loved Christmas and for years at home would put up a minimum of five trees around the house.
“And wherever I found a space to put up a decoration, I’d put one there.
“I’d always dreamed about having my own business and wondered if there was anything out there related to Christmas.
“I came across the franchise and immediately fell in love with it.”
After making a different career move, she worked out of her garage for the first year and, much to her delight, found herself in great demand with both commercial and private clients who loved Christmas as much as she did.
“People were really interested in what we did,” said Charlotte, 39.
“We took on some really big contracts but possibly the strangest and biggest one was putting fairy lights on the air traffic control tower at Edinburgh Airport. Now that really was a big, big challenge.”
Going full out with decorations
Normally she attends a major conference held in Frankfurt each January – this next year could be different – attended by suppliers from all over the world, keen to show off the new items they have created.
“Planning for commercial jobs begins in February, and planning for residential properties tends to begin as soon as the kids go back to school after the summer holidays,” she said.
“Funnily enough, it’s the residential property owners who tend to want to really go full out with decorations.
“Huge trees, sleighs, lots of light displays, and such like.
“There’s no limit to how much people are willing to spend, and that’s just to hire items from us, and for us to install them and decorate their homes, only for us to take it all down again in January.”
It’s been suggested that, as 2020 has been a rough one, many people will put their decorations up earlier than normal and go all out with indoor and external lights and decorations, just to cheer everyone up.
Charlotte said: “It’s been such a horrible year. I think putting up the tree and decorations will be comforting. People want to recreate those happy feelings they remember having when they were younger.
“Last year, rose gold was a strong theme, but this year it’s gone very traditional with lots of red and gold.
“Another growing trend is for people to have moving animatronics in their home.”
‘If you think to yourself, is that too much? Then keep going and you’ll find it really comes to life.’
By early November, her own home had been fully decorated, but at the time of this interview later in the month, they’d all been removed.
“I put them up early so I could do a bit of filming, but then had to take them down again. They’ll be going up again very shortly,” said Charlotte, who is mum to six-year-old Emila.
“My husband, Martyn, loves Christmas too, but he doesn’t really get involved and just lets me get on with it.
“It can take a good four hours to fully decorate a large tree, but I love it.
“It’s pretty different these days to the Christmases of my childhood when we’d make paper chains and hang things on the tree that we’d made.
“My mum still hangs up a decoration I made in primary one.”
While we tend to buy nice, shiny new decorations each year, Charlotte says we shouldn’t underestimate the value of hanging up sentimental items too.
“In term of decorations I’d say there’s really no limit.
“If you think to yourself, is that too much? Then keep going and you’ll find it really comes to life.”
While Kim and Charlotte love Christmas and all the decorations that go with it, new research has revealed it’s the small things that make it magical.
A nationwide survey has shown that selection boxes, onesies, groaning at terrible cracker jokes and getting an afternoon nap all made the definitive list of little things that make the festive season great.
There’s even a special place in our hearts for Brussels sprouts, which came 12th on the list.
However, the largest number of those surveyed (50%) said it was decorating the tree that was the most special, closely followed by the smell of Christmas lunch cooking.
The poll, by Tropic Skincare, also said almost half of those surveyed would never again take for granted being able to spend time with their family and friends over the holidays, with many valuing, above all else, the chance to give someone they love a hug.