I will perform an annual ritual at our house today. It's not marked on any calendar, but it happens every year around the same time. It’s not an official holiday, or anyone’s birthday, so it doesn’t get the same fanfare as these other milestones, but it still carries with it a great deal of significance. Today is the day I will take down the Christmas tree.
As the resident hausfrau, this job is always left to me since it falls into the category of “cleaning up,” an area that’s typically my domain. I’d prefer not to address the psychology behind my self-title, Queen of Clean. Let’s just say, sometimes you have to bring in the big guns for such an important job.
Dragging a 7-foot tall, natural Balsam fir tree into the living room and watching thousands of its needles fall on my rug over the course of several weeks each winter is all that’s needed to bring out my deepest tidying tendencies, so it makes sense that I take charge of the dismantling myself. Actually I don’t mind at all. What’s makes this job satisfying is that I have the opportunity to handle each and every ornament one more time before I carefully tuck them away in their wrapping for another year, completing the holiday cycle until next December comes.
There are generations of memories tied up in these ornaments, each one representing a different stage in our family’s life. There are our “First Christmas Together” intertwined newlywed hearts, both kids’ “Baby’s First Christmas” photo ornaments, handmade artwork from their preschool and kindergarten years, painted dough Santa’s and reindeer from a variety of craft fairs, and the footballs, trains, turtles, soccer balls, witches and fairy princesses that marked the various stages of our kids’ passions throughout the years. We reserve a special spot high up on the tree for our beloved “It’s A Wonderful Life” ornament, imprinted with the Hollywood images of Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed and the accompanying little bell that rings with nostalgia every time.
I rarely throw an ornament out, instead preferring to give some of them a year or two off periodically, allowing selected baubles to remain safely ensconced in their tissue casings, undisturbed. What makes this process so much fun is the sense of anticipation I feel when I reopen the boxes each year. No matter how many times I might hold a particular artifact up to the light, watching it swirl on its hanger before selecting the right branch, I’m always whisked back to a specific reminiscence. It’s like individual time travels are built into each treasure.
The process of dismantling our holiday centerpiece, while bittersweet, also allows me the metaphorical permission to clean up the prior year’s foibles and follies, leaving me with the extra space I need to explore possibilities for new adventures and future achievements. Once the tree is out of the house, I feel renewed, seeing my way clear to start fresh again, forging ahead towards growth and change.
So, here I sit, glass of wine in hand, contemplating where to start. Empty boxes are strewn around my feet, waiting to be reunited with their sparkly inhabitants. I decide to begin at the top and work my way down methodically, until I reach the less breakable, cat-friendly objects we always leave closest to the floor. Once I am finished with my chore, the ornaments packed, lights unstrung, last needle vacuumed up, and couch returned to its regular position in front of the window, I will settle back and think about where I’ve been and what lies ahead.