Putting away Christmas ornaments feels like a task that embodies the spirit of New Year’s Day, even more so than putting out Christmas ornaments embodies the spirit of a Saturday in early December. As joyful a feeling as it is in the weeks before Christmas to fill the house with sparkly things and fragrant things and little objects that glitter, it’s an even more welcome feeling to put them all away on the first day of a new year.
Setting up the tree ushers in the holiday season. The kids love this job; they remark over each ornament as they unpack it, reminiscing about where it originated – as a preschool crafts project, a gift they still remember unwrapping, a memento bought on a vacation far from home and far from Christmastime – and working together cheerfully as they decorate the tree’s branches and then carefully arrange the larger Christmas decorations elsewhere around the house.
Three or four weeks later, when it’s time for the un-decorating, the kids tend to disappear, consumed suddenly with other necessary tasks in other parts of the house, but I don’t mind. It doesn’t bother me to put away the ornaments and decorations by myself. I love seeing the living spaces of the house miraculously become uncluttered: tabletops bare again, the corner where the tree stood once again open, nothing dangling from overhead in the entryway. It’s the biggest and yet also the easiest decluttering process of the year: no big decisions about what to keep and what to discard and where to store what; it all goes into the big plastic Christmas bins, and from there down to the basement.
I’m not good about treating the ornaments delicately. Though they may look as if they should each be wrapped individually in tissue paper, years of experience have taught me it isn’t really necessary: storing them in layers with soft items such as Christmas stockings or tablecloths between layers is almost always good enough to preserve them intact for the next year. It gets the job done quickly, and it gives me the instant gratification of seeing my nice neat house emerge from under the holiday glitz once again.
A tidy, sparsely decorated house for New Year’s feels exactly right: clean open lines to welcome a new year that hasn’t itself been claimed by ornamentation or themes yet. The year will develop its own details as it develops; plans, events and memories will eventually dot the calendar like decorations on a Christmas tree. Right now, the year is still unclaimed, and so are the surfaces and spaces in the house that yesterday were still filled with Christmas décor. It’s good to have breathing space – in our house, in our minds – as we welcome 2012.