The Most of Christmas Past

The tree started out nice. OK, it was always a little funny-looking, but it had a sort of rough-hewn, homemade dignity. I would have sawed about six inches off the trunk and removed some of the scraggly lower branches to give it a more classical triangular shape. (See, Dad, I was paying attention!) The lights are random leftovers from previous years’ trees, mostly pale yellow, a couple strings of multicolored lights, one of them blinking.

The pièce de resistance was the Christmas pop music coming from a radio hidden under a little red felt tree skirt. I confess I felt a slight swelling in my heart and a tear in my eye at “Do They Know it’s Christmas?” (Remember 1984’s Band Aid?)

A few days before Christmas the tree greeted us in the lobby of our building, generating a gentle glow and sparkling meekly. It was a sudden change to an otherwise cold and empty lobby, and the effect was enchanting. It was like a kid’s art project you’d tack to the fridge. But like said art project, the longer it stays there, fading and gathering dust and food stains, the sadder it looks, and the less it does to honor the artist.

The tree has not aged well. Nearly all the lights have been either unplugged or have burned out. All that remains of its once festive twinkle is a single string of multicolored lights. It snakes up through a few of the lower branches like a good time barely remembered.

The radio station stopped playing Christmas tunes on December 26. Now it’s back to boring old Lite FM. I can’t figure out for all the world why it’s still turned on and tuned in. Now that we’re past the twelfth night, I think it’s time to say good-bye to Christmas.

It’s a little depressing to see the last vestiges of a withering holiday. I boxed up our own tree last weekend, shuttered it away in the closet. The sentimentality gets me every year: I decorate the tree after Thanksgiving with carols on the stereo; I take it apart in January in total silence, distracting myself from heavier thoughts by counting the lights by twos so I can rubber band the strings to fit back in the box properly.

This morning, walking to work from the subway, I thought I caught a piece of confetti floating and twisting down to the sidewalk from somewhere. I looked up and saw about a dozen squares of tissue paper. They do a pretty good job of sweeping the streets on New Year’s Day in Times Square, but I guess they don’t get to the confetti trapped on the rooftops until the week after. Looking down from my 31st-floor office later, I saw men with power blowers shifting piles of multicolored glitter and paper off onto the sidewalk, briefly showering pedestrians in the memories of the melée of a few days ago. For a moment I wanted to be down there, but with Christmas neatly folded up, we are all back at our grindstones.


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the untallied hours

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