I have been surprised at how many have come to me to tell how much they enjoyed this last one in the local paper! Since my December piece talked about snowstorms, I decided in January I needed to look back and mention Christmas... I guess it worked!
Taking Down the Tree
I kept the tree up as long as I possibly could.
It always seems to me that while the tree—with its bright, cheerful lights, shiny ornaments and red ribbons--is still up, so linger the full, warm days of Christmas. I seem still to hear the conversations. The gorgeous music with words of pure joy in choral perfection. The laughter around the long-played family board games, the aroma of the traditional Christmas dishes. The shout of sheer delight of surprise when gifts are open, and tears of gratitude over the personal, meaningful gifts.
The tree perpetuates these as long as it is still up.
Alas, Mid-January comes, and the tree must go.
Each ornament carefully inspected, boxed. The lit-up village houses, unplugged, stacked up in their neat boxes. The poinsettias too must go, depleted now of most of their Christmas-red leaves. Even the nativity sets, so recently completed with the arrival of the three Kings from Orient at Epiphany: they too are laid to rest for a whole year, the little holy figures warm and safe in their little blankets, inside old and worn-out containers.
In go the ornaments, the advent wreath, Mary and Joseph, the little Babe, the humble shepherds, manger, stable, ox and ass, sheep, camel. All carefully wrapped, all into the red-lid large bin. Candle holders, pinecones, lights and stars, bells… Bins sealed, stored.
Yet the heart isn't sad.
Why? Why doesn't the putting-away of Christmas things make me sad?
I remember the Christmas when the answer to this question finally dawned on me.
Before we moved to Brookings, our family lived in a 1880s farmhouse in 18 acres with the oldest, prettiest and densest shelterbelt you have even seen, a creek and all. It was near EROS USGS Data Center and Garretson was the nearest post office. We loved its beauty and peace, but each winter I feared the isolation it brought.
One year, it started snowing on Christmas Eve. As the day progressed all of our festive plans for Midnight Mass at the Cathedral—along with our music ministry the next morning at the Garretson church—progressively vanished. By dinnertime, we knew--although it took us longer to admit it—that no one was going anywhere.
It snowed nonstop for a day and a half. It was the only Christmas in my long life that I did not go to Mass. We made up for it by saying the beautiful prayers of the joyful Christian feast, and of course playing and singing together, inside, warm and safe. Two days later a kind neighbor, on a huge machine, dug us out of the acreage.
After that unforgettably snowy, homebound Christmas, as I searched within for the reason behind the unexpected joy in tucking all those precious things away, I found the answer.
When the boxes are stored away, to be opened the next dark season, they make room for Light. I notice that the days actually getting a little bit longer, every day. Very timidly so, but inching ahead into the summer, surely.
Light. Life: gifts from the Holy Child whose birth we just celebrated! At Christmas, we celebrate the Child who, as the song so beautifully says, spells the darkness away!
We now joyfully look forward to the longer, warmer days, and all of its wonderful things: flowers, gardening, the first fresh vegetables, the bike rides, the birds singing.
All of it still far away, but now definitely on the horizon!