Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Un-decorating after New Year's

It’s sort of a holiday Jack Sprat story, I suppose: my children and husband love putting the Christmas ornaments up, and I love taking them down.

They look forward to a mid-December Saturday each year when the three of them file up to the attic and then march down with plastic bin after plastic bin. I think we have four in all, plus a few smaller cardboard boxes, housing our Christmas décor. Then there’s the tree stand and the tree skirt. The Christmas storybooks have their own box as well, and even though Holly doesn’t read picture books anymore at other times of year, she still likes to pore over Santa Mouse, the pop-up version of the Nutcracker, The Polar Express, Christmas at Noisy Village (my favorite) and all the others. So when she gets tired of the decorating process, she heads up to fetch the carton of books and places it near a comfortable armchair for pleasure reading throughout the holiday season.

I don’t remember ever taking a stand against helping them with the decorations; it’s just evolved into an unspoken tradition. There’s so much else for me to keep busy with around the house on December weekends. So somehow it just always happens that they do this job while I’m baking Christmas cookies, preparing packages for mailing or composing our annual Christmas card poem.

When New Year’s rolls around – the day itself, or the day after, if that happens to be on a weekend as it was this past year – I do the undecorating without any help, and that’s fine with me. I find it so soothing to take each little bauble and trinket from its place on the tree or table or shelf, wrap it in a sheet of tissue paper of newspaper, and place it back into one of the plastic bins.

To some extent, the appeal of this process is obvious, especially for someone who prioritizes domestic tidiness as much as I do. Our rooms just look so neat and spare after the decorations are put away. Once we’re accustomed after a few weeks to seeing their shiny shapes and bright red, silver, and gold hues, the spaces they’ve left behind look even cleaner and clearer in their absence than those same spaces did before the ornaments went up.

But the peace of mind that this job brings me goes beyond mere housekeeping. I like saying goodbye to the ornaments. I like thinking about how they’ve borne witness to yet another joyful holiday season, marked by family get-togethers, parties, visits from friends, and the ritual of gift-giving on Christmas morning, but that now it’s time for us to foray into the New Year without them, to focus on our January goals and upcoming plans free of the responsibilities that the holiday season always entails.

Of course, there’s never any guarantee that these ornaments will witness another happy holiday season with us, and I’m far too suspicious a person by nature to promise the ornaments that we’ll be reunited with them under the same circumstances in a year. But I’m willing to take that chance as I bid them farewell for the next 11 months. At some point during the summer I’m likely to be up in their corner of the attic, and I’ll cast them a quick passing glance, sweating in the heat of August and almost unable to imagine another snowy December day when we’re ready to take them out yet again. But for now, it’s good to see them go, knowing that clean, bare surfaces and the clean slate of a new year are taking their place.

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