If you are a person whose house is purged of ribbons, wrapping paper, candy canes, balsam firs, colored lights and all things red and green by 12:01 a.m. each Dec. 26 or, unfailingly, at least by New Year’s Day, go ahead and stop reading now–this column is just not for you.
If, however, you are sneaking a guilty glance around the room as you read, trying to tune out the remnants of December decor and the “ping” of dropping needles from your rapidly aging Christmas tree, I am speaking directly to you.
You see, I am one one with you. Each year, whether in late November or early December, my kids begin pleading with me to “hurry up and get a tree,” and to “move it” on getting the house set for the holidays. Sure, it’s always a thrill to trim and hang in the pre-Christmas rush and excitement, but who will be there for me in the brightening but chill days of January when it comes time to stash all those smiling Santas, Nutcrackers, dozens of ornaments, wreaths and other holiday folderol?
Exactly no one, that’s who. This year, I did my level best to limit the amount of stockings, angels and decorative pine cones unpacked from their 11-month slumber in our attic, but my mistake was in leaving the not-yet-emptied boxes in the living room for a day or two during the deck-the-halls process.
“You HAVE to get this one out!” a teenager would chirp upon rummaging through the tissue paper bundles, or, “This one’s my FAVORITE!” and “Remember when I brought this home from school for you and daddy? I almost smashed it in my backpack!”
Don’t get me wrong–of course I treasure the little things, the memories, the small moments, the hand-crafted gewgaws, the set of six matching snowmen. But as I get older, I start to wonder about the wisdom of making all that effort for three short weeks of holiday magic, and to look further ahead to these lonely January days, when everyone is again fully immersed in school, work, sports and other activities–and I am daily left alone to ponder for a few moments whether my priority should be packing it all up or doing one of the other 26 things on my list for that day.
So far, almost everything else has won out over the multiple climbs up the stairs for the designated boxes, the untangling of lights, the folding of personalized Christmas stockings and the wrapping of fragile ornaments. The end is just not as much fun as the giddy beginning…or, as Cole Porter memorably wrote in “Just One of Those Things,” “If we’d thought a bit of the end of it when we started painting the town….”
I wish I were less of a procrastinator and more of a neatnik–one of those people whose house is guest-ready any day of the week and who doesn’t know the meaning of the word “pile.” But the post-Christmas pack-up seems to drag on and on for me. In the gray light of midwinter day, the decorations that seemed so welcoming and charming on Dec. 5 simply look gaudy and, yes, a bit dusty by Jan. 12.
However, by nightfall, as I sigh in resignation and plug in the tree “because it’s still up, after all,” the glow still makes the space cozy, brighter and somehow reassuring. I was also comforted to learn, upon recently revealing my not-so-hidden secret to a friend who happens to live in the country, that HER tree and decorations were still up.
“And they just might stay there until Valentine’s Day,” she confided. Hmmmm. That makes my goal of Jan. 19 look pretty good.
So, friends and neighbors, if you happen to notice the house whose windows are still twinkling with Christmas lights at this late date (“What is WRONG with these people?” you may be wondering), please do not judge. Instead, take pity on me and my errant, procrastinating ways. I’m sure something will have changed around here before Mardi Gras.