How do I protect my Christmas tree from my one-year-old? And vice-versa?

Conor Pope: I took to Twitter for advice: the consensus was my tree was doomed

“One evolutionary zealot told me to let my little girl pull the tree down to teach her not to mess with it again” Photograph: iStock

I've seen Elf many times and in many ways. I've watched it on old-school television, downloaded it from legally grey areas, streamed it using more certainly legal channels and, every year, I go see it in the cinema.

Along with Withnail and I, The Big Lebowski and the Life of Brian, it's probably the film I can quote most freely from. I don't say this as a boast – it's hardly boastworthy – merely as a fact. But even though I've seen it more times than makes sense to most, two things leapt off the screen like new when I took the Popes for their annual viewing in the Lighthouse in Smithfield last Sunday.

The first thing was the prominence of Baby It's Cold Outside. I'd not really noticed it before but it was there early on, in a shower scene when Zooey Deschanel's ablutions were interrupted by Buddy the Elf – well, he's not actually an elf, but you probably know that already.

I could feel people in the pews nearby bristling as she sang. When the song appeared a second time, everyone started to leave, although that had less to do with any finely tuned outrageometers and more to do with the fact the credits were rolling and staff were lining up to deal with a popcorn-related incident near where I was sitting that we really don’t need to explore here.


Of course, the reason I noticed the song this year more than at Christmases past is because Baby It's Cold Outside is suddenly controversial, having been dropped by radio stations over fears it doesn't chime with our times. It's certainly creepy when viewed through a modern-day prism but it could also be argued that the woman in the song is more concerned with what her mother, neighbours and society at large will think if she stays too much longer in the man's house than she is about him slipping her a Mickey Finn (no tittering down the back).

But enough of that. The second and more troubling – for me at any rate – scene I found myself watching with fresh eyes was one which sees Will Ferrell’s Buddy trying to put an angel on a Christmas tree by leaping at it. His attempt doesn’t end well and the tree comes crashing down, crushed decorations everywhere.

The chaotic scene sent me spinning back to my own living room and my own Christmas tree which, when I’d left it, was still standing despite the best efforts of my just-turned-one-year-old baby daughter to do a Buddy on it.

Seeking advice

Ahead of getting my tree, I took to Twitter seeking advice on how to keep it upstanding and out of reach of an infant intrigued by sparkly things – the pointier and glassier the better. The consensus was my tree was doomed.

Some people suggested I park it permanently in a playpen – the tree, not the child. Now playpens aren’t as common as they once were but I actually have one, bought months ago with a view to keeping my littlest girl safe from harm. She didn’t like the view and so far she’s spent four minutes in it while it has spent four months cluttering up my house. I could see no way to keep my tree festive while imprisoning it in a black mesh cage, so discarded that notion.

Other Twitter folk recommended a fake plastic tree – they're dead to me now – and more suggested I go easy on the decorations and dress my tree from the waist up. That's easier said than done in my house, where decorations are a big deal, with mountains of them, sourced everywhere from Cork to China, telling stories we'd hate to forget.

One evolutionary zealot told me to let my little girl pull the tree down to teach her not to mess with it again. That seemed harsh on her, the tree and me. Someone else pointed out that her offspring “were told ‘no’ and moved away if they seemed inclined to grab the tree. And guess what, they never pulled the tree down.”

No one likes a show off, missus.

But my favourite advice came from a woman who told me in a stern tone that my daughter was “one, not stupid”. She went on to say that all I needed to do was to “explain to her and show her it can topple [and] let her help decorate it too.”

Now my little girl is not stupid. In fact, she’s super smart but one who is still 12 months old and her vocabulary thus far extends to “Agudagudaguda”, “yum” (I think) and “bluurg”(I’m sure) while her manual dexterity only really allows her to put decorations into her mouth or her parents’ mouths and not daintily onto a tree, so that important life lesson will pass her by for at least another year. In the meantime, I’ll stay on the edge of my seat – literally - until the day comes to take the tree and its decorations down. And even though I’ll rest easier then, I’ll be sad to see it go.