12 Days of Christmas – Natasha Sharma

What a thill to have Natasha Sharma join the 12 Days of Christmas with another Christmas tree memory. How glorious!

Natasha Sharma low res

The substitute tree

It began when I was twelve.

My parents had started a kindergarten school out of our home. That year, in the weeks leading to Christmas, little squeaky voices sung out carols through the day. Globs of glue waited expectantly for a shoe to land and clouds of glitter stayed suspended in the air long after the children had gone home after crafting Christmas ornaments. My father, with all his natural padding, had been assigned the role of Santa. The only thing left was the tree. And there was the problem.

In my hometown in India, a real Christmas tree was a rare sight. The occasional sighting was the result of careful tending to by an ambitious gardener. We certainly didn’t have any access to one. Hence, the need to substitute.

The stand-in Christmas tree was a Mast Tree, also known as the False Ashoka. Native to India and growing in great abundance in our backyard, its fairly conical shape won it the ticket. It was quickly bunged into a planter and brought into service. The tree has glistening long leaves that tend to hang limply unlike the perkiness of spiky needles. It has no distinct smell to suggest that Christmas is around the corner. Ours, that year and in all the years ahead, had an inclination to droop to one side, possibly from carrying the weight of our expectations to live up to the original. Irrespective, the False Ashoka (an unfortunate name) held pride of place each year, decked with home made ornaments and copious amounts of cotton for snow.

While Diwali is our main festival, some Christmas festivities are a part of most of our lives. Mumbai, where I now live, has hot and humid weather with no real Fir tree in sight. Many people trim large fake trees that look unbelievably real. We prefer to stay instead with our substitute trees.

  • 2012 was the year of the ‘Wire Tree’ – flouncy pink net strung through wire and spiralled into a conical shape.
  • 2013 was the year of the ‘Magazine Tree’ – old magazines cut into tree shapes and opened up into three-dimensional wonders.
  • This is the year of the ‘Stick Tree on Wall’ – sticks strung together and livened up with silver ornaments and blue butterflies.

If you decide to ever substitute and test your skills in crafting a tree, here’s my learning: if it looks nothing like what you set out to make, simply load on twinkly lights and you will have a merry Christmas.


Natasha Sharma lives in Mumbai, India and has published ten books for children including Bonkers! which recently won the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award 2014 for Asia and Middle East. In her previous avatar as a brand manager, she marketed watches, coffee and pizza. She delights in writing stories that (hopefully) create little bubbles that fizz up through the tummy and come bursting forth as giggles.

Natasha’s latest books include:

  • Squiggle Takes a Walk – All About Punctuation. Published by Puffin Books and Young Zubaan.
  • Raja Raja and the Swapped Sacks. This is the third book in the History Mystery Series. Published by Duckbill books.

You can find Natasha in multiple places so do look for her …

Natasha won the regional Crystal Kite trophy in 2014 for the Middle East, India and Asia division (you can read an interview about that on the official SCBWI blog here).

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