We have just removed the Christmas Tree - it lay on the lawn for a day, unadorned, dry, a pale washed-out parody of it's earlier self. It had served its purpose and was about to be discarded and disposed of.
Christmas for our family is inextricably tied up with tinsel and pine-scent, twinkle and needles, a 'real' tree with an angel on top.
That's the inside christmas; the decorations, the gifts, the family gatherings, the food and drink. Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas without each of these elements, and we have developed rituals and rules around them.
The girls and I choose the tree each year. The girls decorate it, although I put the lights onto it - generally before the other decorations. (Craig has now taken on that role.) We also visit the Kirks Christmas shop each year and the girls choose a decoration each. They therefore each have a collection of decorations already for when they begin their 'own' christmases away from home.
The gifts appear piled around the foot of the tree, all named and beautifully wrapped, awaiting christmas morning.
The last to be added are the stockings left by 'Santa Claus' - three individulalised stockings made by my mother when the girls were young, and as much a part of the ritual as any other. They are opened/emptied first on Christmas morning. Which has it's own special rhythm. Generally, Desiree and I are awake, or at least out of bed first. As the girls have got older they have stayed in bed longer, perhaps stretching out the suspense.
Once all are assembled and in place, the youngest has the job of distributing the gifts. Always one at a time, so we all know who has got what, and can appreciate the gifts.
And after the debris has been cleared, there is a hiatus, while we gear up for the next phase. That may be a visit to another branch of the family, or a visit by them to us, and the preparation of the food - turkey, chicken, pork, roast vegetables, desserts, whatever we have decided for that year. And so the day stretches out towards evening.
But I started this with the Christmas Tree. The centrepiece of the 'inside' Christmas.
But the Christmas season - holidays, warm weather, visits, gifts, relaxation, reminiscing - are, for me inextricably linked to another tree.
The pohutukawa is the quintessential 'kiwi' christmas tree, as much a part of the ritualised christmas as the 'inside' pine tree.
Its glorious cloak of scarlet-red flowers festooned on the spreading branches and in full bloom obscuring the deep-green leaves, symbolised the arrival of the summer holidays, just as it's carpet of red, fallen flowers represent the need to clear the drains in readiness for the inevitable summer downpours.
It means summer by the beach, lazy days of indolence, travelling to new places, holidaying temporarily elsewhere. Family time. Relaxation. A chance to pause and draw breath, without planning for the year ahead. Precious time of our own - no-one saying you must be at work tomorrow.
If the incessant scraping and repetitious chirruping of cicadas is the soundtrack of a kiwi summer, pohutukawa trees in full bloom are the visual backdrop - the diorama before which we act out our rituals of holidays and outdoor living.
But, oddly, in our part of New Zealand, pohutukawa are not endemic, they are introduced. Native to this area are the northern rata, close in appearance, and flowering at the same time of year. But they are NOT pohutukawa, and never will be.
Councils may require public plantings of the rata and eschew the pohutukawa, but the popular mind will still insist, as I do, that summer in New Zealand means pohutukawas.
Long may they bloom!