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Taking Down the Tree

January 6, 2016

Our revels now are ended. It seems that our actors were all spirits and are melted into air, Eleanor at the airport, and Walker at the door to his room in Russian House, quite suddenly, on Sunday afternoon. IMG_0024

Ron and I came home to a quiet house and bewildered cats, who thought that a warm body in every bed was going to be a great way to spend the winter. We ordered a pizza and watched a movie Eleanor had recommended, as a way to avoid sadly cleaning up the holiday leftovers and picking up the holiday mess right away.

IMG_0025And then on Monday morning we went to work and last evening I had a friend over to watch the end of season five of Supernatural, and now it’s morning again and the tea cart has some odds and ends left over and there are cat toys all over the floor and it’s Epiphany– time to undecorated the Christmas Tree. We used to take down the tree and clean up the house for New Year’s Day, but since we moved to Ohio and took the kids to an Episcopal church, we adopted the custom of celebrating the twelve days of Christmas as a way to delay the sadness of declaring the holidays over.

Jane Kenyon conveys this sadness in “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 suitcases 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.

Taking down the outside Christmas lights, I fill up the bird feeder, getting us all prepared for extravagant darkness and cold.

I remember getting a demonstration at lunchtime one day while Eleanor was here of why the conversations at meals had gotten so logical and grave when she went off to college. We were discussing Daesh, and someone said it wasn’t a country and someone else said that was part of the point, that we didn’t formally recognize it as any kind of organization and while all this talk was going on, Eleanor made a quick hand gesture and asked “who dis?” which broke everybody up and took the conversation in a new direction.

Now that both kids are gone, the conversations get a little bit predictable, like the people who don’t tell jokes anymore but just refer to them by number. By suppertime, we’ll have cleaned out most of the leftovers and vacuumed up most of the needles from the carpet. We long for epiphany, but all we can see is more darkness ahead.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. PAJ permalink
    January 6, 2016 3:52 pm

    We always leave the tree up until Epiphany, but the taking down can occur anytime after that. I’m hoping for later this week or the weekend at the latest. But our tree was a sad affair this year–not live because of our fear the whole thing would ignite while we were off celebrating with others. There’s no good piney scent to see us through the sadness of putting away the decorations. (But at least our nest isn’t empty for another week.)

    • January 7, 2016 1:13 pm

      One of the reasons we have a firm date for taking down the tree is that Ron likes a live one, and I’m mildly allergic. A few days of dropped pine needles combined with the usual cat hair is enough for my postnasal drip and itchy eyes.
      How fun to have another week!

  2. January 6, 2016 3:56 pm

    This is a very thoughtful post, which makes it terrible that l got sort of fixated on the tin star reflectors. I kind of miss those. Also, my tree is still taking up water, so l am leaving it up…possibly forever.

    • January 7, 2016 1:16 pm

      The poem is full of that kind of evocative detail–something for everyone to fixate on. I like the “my darling” on its collar, which makes me think of the engraved metal ornaments Ron’s great-aunt used to send us each year.

  3. January 7, 2016 12:18 pm

    There is something so final about taking down all the decorations and packing away the festivities, isn’t there? I’m feeling it even more this year because the weather has been very mild up until now but this morning we woke up to find that the wind had changed direction and now we are being promised Arctic cold for the foreseeable future. I forget every year just how much I hate the cold. This morning I remembered all over again.

    • January 7, 2016 1:17 pm

      We’ve had something of the same weather pattern, with it being warm before Christmas and turning cold right after. I hate the cold, too.

  4. January 8, 2016 9:19 am

    I’ve noticed a few more homes seem to be leaving lights up until the 6th in recent years, and many more at least until the first Monday after new year. It’s nice to see. That said, it’s been so mild this Christmas it’s felt odd just celebrating it.

    Logical or not, your mealtime conversations sound very interesting.

  5. January 9, 2016 1:41 pm

    Nice poem. And…my tree is still up.

  6. January 10, 2016 7:07 am

    January is brutal for me this year but not for the same reasons as you.

    Our tree is still up. Half the lights have failed so the bottom and top parts are dark. It’s one of those pre-lit ones and I doubt we try to save it, which is another kind of sad.

    I may have gone through this stage years ago, but I well remember that shift in reality for me when my children were no longer centered on my home. I consoled myself by remembering that was how it was supposed to be, and I wrote horrible poetry. It was still hard.

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