Last weekend the wife and I arranged for a quiet weekend alone at the hermitage. We had enjoyed the holiday visits of our children and grandchildren throughout the previous weeks, but for this weekend, we were all about nestling into our home to tidy up and put away Christmas.
I don’t have a good record of putting away the Christmas decorations very soon after the holidays are over. Nor do I consistently complete all the clean-up at once. I usually do a little here and little there and by February, we’re all done.
The most embarrassing remnant of my unorganized and procrastinating ways is a string of lights still resting high in a spruce tree next to our driveway. Years ago, I bought some outdoor lights and strung them on two fir trees in front of the house. They looked festive indeed. I had to stand on my truck bed with an extender pole to get the lights up to the top of the tree, but the top string just wouldn’t come loose when I tried to take them down after the holidays. So there on the highest branches of a tree that has grown a good six feet since then, the last string remains, a quiet reminder of my past.
This year was different. I started on Friday night getting the huge storage bins out from a little storage closet under the stairs – picture Harry Potter’s room before he went to Hogwarts. Then I laid out a plan to have it all packed away and the house cleaned by Sunday evening.
We went with a much simpler decorating plan this year so there were as many decorations unused as what we put up. The challenge in putting them away again was to pack the things we want to keep and separate what we didn’t use and maybe – wait for it – get rid of some stuff!
Putting away Christmas is actually a fast paced memory trip through all of our yuletides past. There’s the parade of ornaments as you pack them away. The antique angels standing on stars, another angel that belonged to my mother, a little snowman made out of clay by my nephew Joe, the big pink glass ornaments that belonged to Uncle Junior, and on and on through Christmases past.
Once the tree is cleared of ornaments (except for the little ones I always find later after I’ve taken the tree outside to take the lights off), we’re off to take down all the decorations on the mantles, tables, and window sills.
By Sunday afternoon, the “keep” items are separated from the “give away” and everything is stored in their respective bins.
Post-Christmas cleaning is also part of the fun. Having hosted grandchildren ranging from one-year old twins to a twenty year-old college student, you never know what you’ll find. Or specifically, where a sticky fingered kid is going to leave their mark. I’m sure I didn’t find all of the goodies deposited around the house. And, as I’ve learned through the years, you never get rid of the last needles left by the dry tree as it’s dragged out of the house. As I vacuumed needles, I found some old browned remains that could have been years old. I got what I could. I’ll find the rest next year.
The ornaments and decorations all go into boxes and are stowed under the stairs. Shelves are dusted of glitter and tinsel. Non-holiday knick-knacks are put back into place to hold the spot until next year’s decorating starts.
While we return physical items to bins and boxes, we put the memories away in that Christmas box in our heads. I don’t know about you, but all of my Christmas stuff is in one big memory repository in my brain. The memory of the remote controlled dump truck I got when I was ten is right next to the memory of dropping off a present at my girlfriend’s house when I was fourteen, both of which are sitting on top of a vision of a Christmas Eve service in our old Friends Meeting House and fond recollections of our children waking us up on Christmas morning to get started on the presents.
The fond memories of holidays gone, some recent and some long ago, are more precious than even the special ornaments we store away. We cherish those memories and hope the Christmas boxes in our brains remain intact for as long as possible.
With my work complete, I was able to sit down and relax by Sunday evening. As I plopped down in my chair, a little branch of Fraser fir popped out from under my chair. Joy to the world.
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