It’s that time of year again. Christmas was about a week ago. Almost a whole year of preparation has come and gone. A time when some of us celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior and others simply camp in tents outside of big box stores to get their kids the newest version of whatever electronic that is on this year’s list. This year’s discarded pieces of wrapping paper and ribbon have either been plucked from the carpet by those of us lucky enough to have a home to clean up after the consumer Christmas or they are patiently awaiting their destiny with the vacuum. It’s almost peaceful again when you go outside. The bell ringers have packed up their kettles for the season. The hustle and bustle of expectant children and overloaded parents has waned to a dull roar and soon there will only be the quiet after thought of how lucky everyone feels and how grateful we are that we can take a deep breath.
The holidays hold so much excitement for everyone. I remember being a child and I knew, if I could just make it to Halloween than everything else snow balls and before I knew it, BAM! Santa’s coming! I would look forward to baby-stepping to Christmas. First, what was my Halloween costume? Then, planning of dinner at my great Aunt’s home. Listening to my mom plan meals and snacks. As it got closer my Aunt would send out the official “Christmas List Requests” for all of us kids to compose a reasonable list of things we wanted. This was the part I always struggled with and even as an adult it lights a fire of anxiety in me that is among the top 5 reasons I would lose sleep. As a kid, I had anything I could want and as an adult, my needs are even more simple. I have those that I care about and food on all of our tables. I have found my faith. I have found my partner. I am very lucky.
The holidays stand for something so much more important than the packages neatly wrapped under the tree, in all their foiled and patterned glory of anticipation. The holidays stand for togetherness. They stand for warmth. They stand for love. As an adult, that’s what I can’t wait for. When September rolls around I am already starting to keep track of “days until Christmas” in my smart phone. It’s not that I truly believe that people in the real world become more friendly or warm toward each other. As an adult the more I interact with people close to Christmas I don’t believe that at all. In fact, I feel the general demeanor tends to deteriorate in direct relation to the days until the awaited holiday. I believe, though, that I feel the spirit of Christmas more and THAT makes things more warm and magical.
I put my Christmas decorations up the weekend following Thanksgiving. I covered shelves in fake garland and berries. We decorated our tree together. I put out snow man statues, candle holders, and Scentsy warmers. Our tiny little apartment has been warm, cozy and filled with love and the soft illumination of tiny white lights. Now, it is the weekend after Christmas and the inevitable packing back up of the decorations is looming just 2 days away. I have managed to take down all the decorations but one. I can’t bring myself to take down the Christmas tree, not just yet. In fact, every year my heart mourns that moment where all the magic of the season is undone and packed away. The reason we’re all here gets lost among the totes, packing paper and ornament boxes as we pack up as if nothing ever happened. As our typical Monday through Friday grind seeps into the corners once filled with the magic of the season we forget all the good that took residence among us for a single month of the year.
Each and every year I feel like there is something shameful about taking down my tree. I have always felt this way. The tree has always been the last of the decorations to come down in my house, even as a small child. I think the reason my parents waited as long as they did was because it was inconvenient. I also like to hope that my mom feels the same way that I do, like it’s the last bit of magic lingering in our ordinary homes.
The last 2 days I have been parked on the couch with a Winter cold. The couch is across our tiny family room from our tree. I’ve had a lot of time to think about the last of my loyal Christmas soldiers standing. He stands tall and proud holding the weight of all of our Christmas bulbs. For years, my family has exchanged ornaments with each other as an added “hey I thought of you when I saw this” sentiment. It’s one of my favorite traditions. These ornaments hold so many memories for us. From my place on the couch I see a Batman ornament of my fiance’s that my mom bought him. I see the ornament that looks like my horse, which was especially difficult and sentimental this Christmas. There are ornaments for each of my pets (Ivy and Justice), childhood nicknames (Doodles) and hobbies (baking, riding, coffee drinking). This dutiful soldier stands bright, proud and adorned with badges of honor.
My heart dreads the disassembling of my loyal soldier, every year. Taking each ornament down, carefully packing it away until the next Christmas and finally the top hat that is one of my favorite pieces of Christmas character. Each year I dread stripping my Christmas general of his memories with the intention of carrying the Christmas spirit with me all year long. If I’m being honest, that’s a really hard request, am I right? I can only do my best to carry the meaning and love found in Christmas with me in February, July, August and September. In two days our little apartment will go back to normal. Nothing seasonal, nothing sparkly or twinkly about it. You’ve served us well, my dear Christmas tree. Until next year, when you stand as a beacon of Christ’s love again.