What’s that? You say you take your decorations down right after Christmas? For shame, you Grinch. Haven’t you ever heard of Epiphany, or at least Twelfth Night? (That would be the event, not the Shakespearean comedy, by the way.) The Twelve Days of Christmas were the period between Christmas and Epiphany when the Elizabethans, among many others, celebrated the Whole Darn Thing, and they celebrated it well, although somewhat differently than we mostly do. Epiphany, traditionally recognized as the baptismal date of Christ in the Christian calendar, marked the end of those Christmas celebrations.
Okay, in any event, enough with the history lesson. All I’m saying is that if you’re one of those people who strike the holly a day or two after Christmas instead of striking the harp and joining the chorus, you’re flouting a long and grand tradition. (And if you start putting up Valentines’ Day stuff at that point, I’m sorry, but we can’t talk anymore.)
Uh huh. So why is Christmas takedown a “melancholy” occurrence? you ask patiently, suspecting (correctly) that this is the real point. Well, for starters, it seems to mark the ending of a bright spot in winter’s otherwise bleak nature, and we’re back to the cold and dark of January... which, actually, seems like a good enough reason all by itself. (Pop quiz! Q: What’s the purpose of January? A: It makes February seem better.) But this year, it was rather especially poignant for me: those of you who read this journal of my thoughts regularly know I lost my father last autumn. He was 96, and so yes, he’d had a good and long run, but please don’t say that to people who have lost an elderly parent or relative as if it’s supposed to somehow mitigate their grief. Loss is still loss. I agree it’s sharper when the person passing is very young and hasn’t had that opportunity at a “good and long run,” and we all know intellectually that every last one of us, even those elderly parents who seem indestructible and just keep chugging along like the Energizer bunny, are going to leave us some day. But we’re never really prepared when it happens, regardless of whether the passing is shockingly swift or agonizingly slow. And both those endings present their own uniquely specific set of difficulties to those left behind.
Beginning the process of going through Dad’s things, I came across some of the family Christmas decorations, practically all of which I remembered, fondly and vividly, all the way back to early childhood. My sister and I divided them up, and then I brought my “new” old decorations home, determined they would once again grace the boughs of a Christmas tree. Dad couldn’t be bothered putting up a tree for the last few years of his life, so it had probably been quite some time since those decorations had seen the light of day. (He did have a miniature wall-mounted artificial tree, with pre-applied lights and decorations, that could simply be taken out of the Christmas trunk in the basement storage room and put on the kitchen wall, and I rescued that too, to put up in my study, where it twinkled back at me.)
So this Christmas, there those decorations were again, on our tree, representing a part of the Spirit of Christmas Past.
It wasn’t until this last weekend, as I was taking down those decorations --- and the ones my wife and I have accumulated (well, okay, mostly I’ve accumulated) --- that I got particularly reflective about mortality and such (oh my gosh, you’re thinking, he’s got to be a writer with that kind of melodramatic outlook). We’ve got quite a few ornaments and things, and truth to tell, it’s mostly me who has accumulated them. In fact (he admitted sheepishly), we have three Christmas trees at our house: the “main” one... and two smaller ones that house the overflow of all the ornaments I’ve collected over the years. My kids refer to them as “dad’s Star Trek trees.” Yeah, that’s my nerd confession of the day. (My wife just mostly rolls her eyes and says nothing. Most of the time, she’s remarkably tolerant of my... endearingly quirky nature, let’s call it.) And I got to thinking... one day, those ornaments of mine, the ones I have lovingly collected, will have to find a new home, hopefully, with one or more of our kids, just like Dad’s had with me...
Now, look, let’s be very clear: I’m not always this morbid. Honest. But a writer of any kind must needs be a specialist of sorts at examining speculative scenarios... it rather goes with the territory, I think. Besides, my melancholia only lasted for a short while, because I soon realized, like the Grinch, that “perhaps” the Affair of the Christmas Ornaments “means a little bit more” than I at first thought. It’s nothing very complicated, but it did bring me some comfort. It’s this:
There aren’t any endings, not really, not in the most profound sense of the word. The Grand Tale goes on as it always has and as it always will in some form or another that’s likely far beyond our limited understanding. The cast of characters changes constantly --- as Will said, we are all actors who have our entrances and our exits --- but the story continues. And until it’s time for you to make your exit... well, as C.S. Lewis says, you are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.