07 January 2009

So much for that ...

We took the Christmas tree down yesterday.

Yes, I know. Most people tackle that grim chore somewhere between Boxing Day and January 1, but I’m slow. I like to drag out that ephemeral holiday spirit a little bit longer. Because, when it finally hits – for me, right around the Solstice – it’s such a sweet feeling. I get all grandma-y and little girlish. Hearing “Little Drummer Boy” filling the air while I’m getting fleeced at the grocery store makes me all weepy with sentimental memories. Rum-pa-pum-pum, rumpa-pum-pummmmm … sorry.

So with only a few days to go before The Big Day, I haul the 7-foot-faux-fir tree and Christmas ornaments out of storage and get busy as Bing Crosby croons Xmas tunes in the background, logs crackle in the woodstove and the cat snores on the ottoman. It’s like my mind turns into a bowl full of jelly. Pathetic.

Because no Christmas would be complete without non-working twinkle lights, this year the middle section of the tree didn’t light up when I plugged it in. After about an hour of fiddling, changing tiny light bulbs and tinier fuses – and surprising Mr Wren by whipping a wee set of screwdrivers out of the junk drawer – we decided, both of us still amazingly jolly, that it didn’t matter. Once we put the ornaments and tinsel on, no one would notice the dark part of the tree.

We spent a cozy hour decorating it, oohing and ahhhing over the various ornaments, nearly all of which have some story attached from years past. When we were done, the tree looked beautiful and glittery, homey and sweet in a trimmed-down, spare, Thomas Kinkaid sort of way. At any other time of year, Kinkaid’s paintings make me reflex gag, but this was different. I was awash in Christmas spirit.

Before long, I started having urges to bake cookies. But they went away quickly when I ran the list of required ingredients through my mind. I’d have to make a special trip to the store just for sugar, fresh flour and milk, and don’t forget the red and green and silver sprinkles. And then I’d need to hunt down that old set of cookie cutters, which are genuinely retro (read ‘old’) and really cute, but where in the world did I put them? I think I last made sugar cookies in 1987. And where would I roll out the cookie dough? Do I even still have a rolling pin?

Oh, never mind, I told myself. There’s no one around to eat all those cookies anyway, since Mr Wren and I aren’t allowed to anymore. Note to you youngsters out there: Someday, the triple whammy of high cholesterol, too many accumulated pounds around the middle and alarmingly high blood glucose levels will come to live with you, too. So enjoy those sweet, spicy Russian tea cakes and gooey pecan pies while you can. Heh.

But back to my story, whatever it was. Yesterday, after fairy-lighting our lives day and night for two and a half weeks, the bloody Christmas tree came down. Off came all the tinsel and all the gew-gaws. We packed them all away in their dusty plastic bins without a second thought. Then we broke the tree back down into its three, strange sections, stuffed them back into the coffin-like box they came in and as Mr Wren held it closed, I sealed it tightly with silver-gray duct tape. Mr Wren suddenly discovered caked mud on his gardening shoes and went off to clean them, and I dragged Christmas 2008 back to storage, where it will remain, forgotten, until Solstice 2009, when I expect the spirit will hit me again.

This all took maybe a half hour. The place the tree had occupied for a little over two weeks looked cold and empty, suddenly bereft of all that twinkling, sparkly warmth. I kept looking over there, a little nostalgic. And then in the distance, Bing choked on a chestnut and the last of the Christmas spirit dissipated. The house looked normal again, except for the dying poinsettia plant Mr Wren insisted on buying.

And now to the point.

What is Christmas spirit, anyway? I’m not religious, so for me it has nothing to do with the highly-suspect, miraculous virgin-birth of a god-man 3,000-and-some-odd years ago. Is it just relief from finally succumbing to two solid months of merciless, relentless Christmas advertising, Christmas songs, and Christmas decorations everywhere I look? The ol' “if you can’t fight ‘em, join ‘em” syndrome?

Or is that moment, during the Solstice, when you realize that the solar year is, indeed, about to end forever. The trees are mostly bare and the sun’s arc through the sky is low and cool. Winter has arrived, and while it will be cold and bleak for a while, we’re on a straight shot to the first crocuses and daffodils of spring and then, the warm, fecund abundance of summer. Does Christmas spirit descend on that moment when we stand on the cusp of all that’s already happened in our lifetimes and everything that will come, good or bad, and realize it? When all we can do is look forward with hope?

And then the magic wears off. The decorations of the season start to look shabby and more than a little gaudy. The leftover. broken candy canes just won’t disappear and the turkey carcass, so lovingly bagged and tucked into the freezer for turkey soup, now looks like a bunch of unappetizing, desiccated, pointy bones -- and more than a little morbid. Everyone has already told their Christmas-with-the-family stories, the gifts so carefully chosen are gathering dust already and the bills are coming due, just like they do every year. The future, which was put on hold for a few days, then kept on hold for a few more, just won’t wait anymore.

So yesterday we took the Christmas tree down. I think I’m ready for 2009, which is saying something. Last year, I left that damned tree up until July.

2 comments:

Sketch said...

Given my 'druthers, I'd keep the tree up all year. Like you, it's not a religious thing for me, but more just a magical, sparkly time for dreams and comfort. I think you hit it on the head when you called it fairy-lit: there's just something otherworldly about the lights and the colors and flashes and sparkles, and I think those stories behind the decorations add to it, as well.

It's a wonderful escape from the everyday things, and I think that is the final attraction. Staring at christmas tree orbs and smelling (fake, from a spray can, but still) fir trees has nothing to do with bills and work and cleaning and aging and leaving behind dreams.

I think keeping the tree up as long as possible - even into July! - is a very wise move, actually. It gives a gentle, glittery reminder that not everything in everyday life has to be stressful or shadowed by the fear of what might be, if ...

I am always saddened taking it all down and packing it away.

Unfortunately, this year at least I didn't have much of a choice and actually was looking forward to getting rid of it all. The damn cats, still kittens, still possess that wonderful penchant for swatting at dangly things and chewing on anything with electricity running through it ... like fake, pre-lit christmas tree branches.

In a huff I stormed through the process this year, all the while cursing Goblin and Sister, who insisted on poking their noses into boxes, the tree while I folded down the branches, the bubble wrap that would protect fragile pretty things ... and the little patch of bare skin below the cuff of my pants and above the top of my sock.

They have very cold,very wet noses.

Perhaps next year (fingers crossed) they will be less enchanted with destruction and I won't have to take the tree down again ... Perhaps.

Bubs said...

This was a fantastic post. This part

"...when you realize that the solar year is, indeed, about to end forever. The trees are mostly bare and the sun’s arc through the sky is low and cool. Winter has arrived, and while it will be cold and bleak for a while, we’re on a straight shot to the first crocuses and daffodils of spring and then, the warm, fecund abundance of summer. Does Christmas spirit descend on that moment when we stand on the cusp of all that’s already happened in our lifetimes and everything that will come, good or bad, and realize it? When all we can do is look forward with hope?

And then the magic wears off. The decorations of the season start to look shabby and more than a little gaudy..."

captures how I feel during the holidays pretty well. We usually leave our tree up through January 1, and then it comes down as soon as possible after that.