Christmas. It’s so entwined with childhood memories that people can get unreasonably sentimental about it. And while I like the look and the music and the food surrounding the holiday, I’ve never been a fan of all the work involved.
You know. Dragging out the boxes that either sit all year in the attic or the basement. Moving everyday items to make room for the four-weeks-only items. And, most feared of all, trimming the tree.
Putting the holiday dog on is one thing, but taking it down is another altogether. After the holiday passes, ye olde tannenbaum begins to feel like a visitor who’s overstayed his welcome. Moodwise, it no longer delivers because, without the anticipation, it has become stale goods.
It’s a cruel but necessary task, deconstructing a tree. And, once it and all the rest are finally done and packed and restacked in the attic / basement, there’s no cleaner feeling and no bigger sigh of accomplishment. Welcome, January! (Words you never thought you’d see.)
The poet Jane Kenyon decided to tackle this post-holiday mood in her poem below. Let’s read along as she conjures a few specific objects in the roles of the not-always-pleasant purveyors of memory:
Taking Down the Tree
“Give me some light!” cries Hamlet’s
uncle midway through the murder
of Gonzago. “Light! Light!” cry scattering
courtesans. Here, as in Denmark,
it’s dark at four, and even the moon
shines with only half a heart.
The ornaments go down into the box:
the silver spaniel, My Darling
on its collar, from Mother’s childhood
in Illinois; the balsa jumping jack
my brother and I fought over,
pulling limb from limb. Mother
drew it together again with thread
while I watched, feeling depraved
at the age of ten.
With something more than caution
I handle them, and the lights, with their
tin star-shaped reflectors, brought along
from house to house, their pasteboard
toy suitcase increasingly flimsy.
Tick, tick, the desiccated needles drop.
By suppertime all that remains is the scent
of balsam fir. If it’s darkness
we’re having, let it be extravagant.
The last stanza says it all—and more: “If it’s darkness / we’re having, let it be extravagant.” This after the sound and smell of the needles’ death, hallmarks of the holiday’s annual demise, heralders of January’s annual welcome, winter notwithstanding.