Sunday was a gray day.
And gray is the appropriate color for the day to take down the Christmas tree.
The holiday season is all about the “before.” You know the drill. There are only so many days before Christmas. Hurry up and buy before the new (insert present) will be sold out. Buy your plane ticket today before they jack up the prices to catch the holiday travelers.
We see the same litany of “before” every year, as merchants and other commercial interests, from Amazon, big box stores, local shops just trying to keep the wolf from their door, and even our friends at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens try to make a buck on this traditional religious feast.
But no one fixates on the “after.” For the after is just a chore.
A family quest for the perfect Christmas tree is a great time to celebrate the good times we had searching for a tree in years past. Putting up the tree without knocking over the furniture or inserting a reluctant tree into a passive window or the precious photo of grandma is a skill we acquire all over each year.
Stringing the lights is always a frustrating experience. Every year the strings you thought you put away so carefully last year must have come alive right after the lid is closed and attended a drunken brawl. That is the only explanation I can give to the tangled mess that greeted me when I got them out this year.
Ornaments, delicate and not so, all remind us of friends, relatives and children. They are all equal. It doesn't matter if they are fragile European glass depictions of castles and kings or Popsicle sticks glued together by children’s hands.
In the end, each Christmas tree is a magical object. None are ever the same. All are beautiful.
But, after the presents are opened, the pudding has been carefully washed from grandmother’s china plates, the glittering tree slowly creeps back into the dark corner as we resume our lives.
Conversations about ornaments, bright lights and good fellowship turn back to, in no particular order, politics, football, losing weight, inflation and Mr. COVID. It doesn’t take long for the magic of Christmas to return to reality.
Still, the fragrant tree still stands in the corner of the room by a window looking out to the front lawn. Day after day, limb by limb, the bright green needles lose their shine and their grip. Soon they begin to collect on the floor. Ornaments so fragile, slip off the boughs and decorate the floor with glittering shards of glass.
Friends who just weeks ago praised you for your skill at putting it up begin to wonder when you are going to get around to taking it down.
This brings me back to a gray Sunday. The best news is that the other day, my bride and her smiling sister carefully removed the ornaments, blanketed them in colorful tissue paper, stowed them in a plastic bin, and had a good sisterly chat in the process.
The good news is that I was able to stand on a stool and unwind the lights without falling over the couch and landing on my keister or worse.
The other news of note was when I was able to pull the wedges out of the cast iron drain casting we use as a stand without (a), poking out one of my eyes (b), knocking the whole thing over flooding the room with the leftover water we used to keep the tree as hydrated as possible (c), pulling it out of the stand and (d), wrestling it out the front door without triggering a major domestic incident.
Then all I had to do was sweep up 11 million billion pine needles and consign them to the trash.
Tomorrow we will rearrange the front room in a way mandated by the family design committee.
De-treeing the Christmas season is a chore we all share. I am sure, dear reader, you have similar stories of trees gone by.
But somehow, someway, we will remember Christmas during a pandemic and smiling in the dark as we watched tiny colored lights twinkling through the boughs of a fir tree that almost touched the ceiling.
No matter if we were masked, vaccinated, or ignored all the precautions and went commando, 2021 brought us a Christmas like no other.
May we never have another like it.
Be safe. Be well. Be of good cheer.