Caro inhaled the icy air as she strode out of the woodland and made for the backdoor, her trugs overflowing with cones, moss, ivy and lichen-covered branches for festive decorations. “Oh, the joys of living wild,” thought Caro, as she put her trugs away and slipped off her Hunters to feel the warmth of the under-floor heating through her Bamford socks.
She’d decided on a hygge “grown and gathered” Christmas after a girls’ weekend at the wild food festival in Copenhagen, hot on the heels of her ex-husband Davide’s scandalous departure with Antonia, the immaculately manicured and irritatingly elegant local Pilates-studio owner. After two months’ wallowing and another drowning in G&Ts, Caro had pulled herself together after some stern words from her mother and the bracing effects of a thorough financial audit.
Davide may have stolen her self-respect but he wasn’t about to swipe her beloved 400-year-old Cotswold-stone house. After her daughters Maude and Margot, it was the love of her life – painstakingly restored with van-loads of Farrow & Ball, acres of sumptuous Colefax and Fowler fabrics and the fruits of an addiction to 1950s Italian furniture sourced on 1stdibs. But if she wanted to cling to her treasured home she really needed to economise.
As luck would have it, her budgetary constraints chimed perfectly with her new all-natural mantra. She had been toiling over homespun Christmas gifts since Michaelmas. To loved ones, near and far, she’d dispatched dazzling Kilner jars filled with Earl Grey-infused mirabelle jam and whipped up a brigade of brandy-soaked puddings, wrapped in muslin and topped with homemade bark labels. Her biggest triumph was a collection of black truffles she’d unearthed from the copse of truffle-infused hazel trees she and Davide had planted after their honeymoon in Périgord. It all cost a king’s ransom in postage but, rationed Caro, you can’t put a price on saving the planet.
She’d repainted the living room in Nordic White and swathed the sofas and chairs in new greige alpaca blankets – being hygge was all about soothing textures she’d reasoned as she’d handed over her credit card in Heal’s.
Now she was on the final furlong decorating the house. When Davide visited with presents on Christmas Eve, she wanted him to see exactly what he’d given up. While the girls hung Christmas lights on a glade of silver birch saplings in a huge planter in the corner of the living room, Caro got to work decorating her forest-inspired garlands and tablescapes, festooning every available surface in pine branches, fern fronds and piles of crab apples, all shimmering with candles and the Victorian mercury-glass balls she’d won after a post-lunch prosecco-fuelled bidding war at a local auction. The truth was her new hunger for hygge had not had the desired effect on her bank balance – but she was determined not to let her overdraft blacken her Insta-perfect Christmas.
She stood back to admire the twinkling, pine-scented smorgasbord of her foraged Christmas scene as she sipped on a second brandy stiffener, while Walter the dog sat growling by an enormous basket full of greenery next to the tree. “I don’t know what’s got into you,” thought Caro as she went to hoist her supersize witch hazel and willow wreath onto the front door.
She only had 10 minutes before Davide was due so she darted back inside to check the nonchalant seductiveness of her blowdry and cashmere dress.
Suddenly there was a crash from the living room. She ran down to see Walter circling the room at speed, chasing something small and black. As the dog leapt onto the table, he skidded through her evergreen tablescape and ploughed into the mulled wine, showering the Nordic White walls and alpaca. She shrieked, the girls screamed and Walter barked as the tiny creature darted towards her, sending her hurtling into the birch glade. The last thing she saw was Walter flying through the air to capture a tiny shrew in his sharp little teeth.
Amid the chaos, no one heard Davide let himself in. He stood open-mouthed and took in the devastation. Caro, scampering out of the trees on all fours with her bird’s-nest tangle of hair and ripped dress, attempted to regain her composure. “We’re doing a wild Christmas this year, darling,” she said breezily, just before catching a glimpse of Antonia loitering in the background, perfectly coiffed and looking like the cat that got the cream.