08 January 2011


When I was a child, trimming the Christmas tree was a festive family occasion.  Dad was the official lighting engineer of the family.  Once he got the lights onto the tree, we all took turns hanging ornaments and tinsel.  My mother also had an impressive collection of tabletop Christmas decorations, including a beautiful porcelain creche handmade by my aunt, and these were lovingly displayed on the back of the grand piano.  There were special candles that were displayed throughout the house, and there were electric trains that traveled in a perpetual circular path under the Christmas tree.  Special china came out of the sideboard for the season.  It was a Yuletide fairyland.

Then, when Christmas was over, the decorations just disappeared.  It was sudden, quick, and complete.  We went back to school in January, and when we returned on the first day back, the house was totally normal, as if  nothing had happened.  The tree was gone without a trace, and the ornaments were back in the attic.

The process by which our halls were undecked was a mystery to me until I was an adult.  It was many years before I learned that my mother had performed this task alone.  She told me it was a lonely and sad task and that she resented having to do it without help.  (I imagine she did have help until my grandmother's prolonged illness and death when I was a teenager.  My grandmother, who lived with us the entire time I was growing up, died the November right after I turned fifteen.  The loss of her mother's company must have been especially difficult for my mom to bear at Christmas and during the cleaning-up days of early January.)

An odd side effect of the secretive and magical undecking of my childhood home is that I was completely unprepared for and unschooled in this task when I had a home and family of my own.  I struggled for a few years with it, and then I tried to make it festive and social.  I always do it the weekend after Epiphany, and I try to resist the impulse to just do it by myself.  It really is a sort of unpleasant task, sweeping the dried pine needles, hauling a dead tree to the curb, packing away my own beautiful porcelain creche into a plastic bin in the attic. It marks the end of the holiday season and the beginning of the rest of the winter, which stretches ahead of us cold and long and without bells, lights, and Santa-shaped candles.

This year, I did most of the undecorating (as always, I made Sam do the heavy tree-to-curb hauling), but I wasn't alone.  The kids were working on homework, and the radio was on because something had happened in Arizona that I wanted to hear updates about as I worked.  We talked about the loved ones who had sent Christmas cards - two families in particular that I haven't seen in a long time and miss very much.  We discussed the news, and Sam read updates aloud from the internet.  I inventoried ornaments and creche pieces. (I seem to have only two Wise Men.  I have noted this for years but, whenever I'm in a position to buy the missing piece, I can never remember which one I need.  Gaspar?  Melchior?  Do you think I thought to make a note this year of which one it is?  Nope.)

Another mom whose blog I read has each child cut a limb from the tree, then throw it into the fireplace and make a wish.  I like that; it's warm and hopeful.  That particular mom has been through a lot lately, and sticking to traditions like that helps her.  Do you have "undecking" traditions?  How do you make an inherently sad task bearable or even pleasant?

What's in the crockpot:  Nothing.  It's the weekend, which means I am home and can actually cook a hands-on meal.

What's on my mind:  The attempted assassination of a congresswoman in Arizona, and the murder of several bystanders, including a federal judge and a nine-year-old child, by the would-be assassin. Those poor people.  Our society has so much work to do.

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