O’er the fields we go, packing all away

We just finished un-Christmasing the house. I have never before seen so many dead pine needles all at once. It’s weird to have things back to normal, but I’m getting used to it.

I came home to find Jeff pulling ornaments off the tree. He was putting them in the wrong boxes, but I didn’t say anything. It may seem like it does’t matter, but I have a system. They should go back in the boxes they came from. Different colors should be distributed evenly to ensure equally even distribution next year when we hang them on the next tree. But at least they’re all put away. We can deal with it next year.

The tree had been well past it for about a week. Parked in front of the radiator, it was browning on one side and completely dried out on the other side. The lightest touch would send a cascade of needles down onto the carpet and the unwrapped gifts below. It was time to say good bye.

We finished boxing everything and packing it all away—a little less than we started with: two ornaments shattered on the floor and two whole strings of lights were burned out.

I dragged the tree outside, needles raining down all around me, in my hair, down my shirt, down my pants. I dropped it on the sidewalk in front of the house and turned around to see a green and brown trail leading back inside. It looks so much smaller outside of the house. Defeated. Diminished.

Vacuuming up the pine needles is one of my favorite parts. Now until we empty the canister, every time we run the vacuum, the house will smell like pine.

The installation of a Christmas tree is a major disruption. Furniture is displaced. The TV moves clear across the room. The cat’s basket moves to the dining room, of all places. It’s a totally bizarre, almost obscene, thing to drag a living (dying?) tree into one’s house, stand it up in the corner and throw Christmas at it—but it’s a matter of obligation, isn’t it? I can’t imagine ever not doing it.

Then it becomes the new normal, the new familiar, and you don’t ever want it to go away. Standing in the corner by the front window, the tree is solemn and proud. Sometimes the only lights on in the house are the 400 tiny lamps on that tree. Sometimes the quiet, warm glow is the only light you need. You don’t need to see far—just enough light to remember the good times, and maybe to catch a glimpse of good times yet to come.

And then when it’s time for the tree to go, it feels as if it’s torn from the house. It leaves a wound. The furniture is set right, but at first it seems all wrong.

When Christmas ends, it always ends abruptly and completely. The needle lifts from the record and the music stops. The lights and decorations are out of place and time, and the songs don’t make sense anymore. The drug stores still have leftover candy, marked way down. But apart from that, Christmas is all but rolled up and tucked away.

Someone recently compared it to sex. All that preparation, all that fuss and bother, leading up to one moment, and then it’s suddenly over. And you’re wondering: Well, what now? Is that it? And you’re left with a mess to clean up. (And before long, you can’t wait to do it again.)


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the untallied hours

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