Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Tossing Out the Tree

Walking around the West Village on December 26th, I noticed the first Christmas trees tossed to the curb - the day after Christmas!! I'm always shocked by this, but it's the same story every year. Within a day or two of Christmas, discarded trees start appearing, some still dressed in their lights and tinsel. Tinsel I can understand. But lights? How lazy does one have to be to leave the lights on the tree when it's headed for the curb? This only complicates the job of the trucks that collect most of these trees for delivery to one of the city's mulching facilities. (Are they simply adding shredded wire, plastic, and glass to the mix of mulch?)

How little Christmas spirit must one have to trash the tree on December 26th? My wife has observed that perhaps these are people who will be traveling for the remainder of the holiday period. But I think there are just too many on the curbs to give that hypothesis credibility. We didn't get our tree down until last week, several days after Epiphany, signaling the end of the Christmas season (if one follows liturgical calendars). As a child, I remember our family tree always came down on January 1st or 2nd, but no later. When my brother and I visited my grandmother in the hospital on her 94th birthday, December 31st, she asked us to remind my mother to drop by the house and remove all Christmas decorations, including the wreath on the front door, by the end of New Year's Day. She was lying in the Intensive Care Unit, attached to IVs and oxygen, but she was still worried that her decorations might be up past January 1st, thus inviting bad luck for the coming year. (By the way, she's out of the hospital and improving. And my mother took down my grandmother's decorations on January 1st. Why tempt the gods who control luck?)

On the opposite side of the spectrum from those Scrooges who can't wait to reclaim the space taken up by the Christmas tree are those who can't bring themselves to haul out the boxes and repack the decorations for another year. I still see plenty of apartments and businesses sporting the mantle of holiday cheer, with lights and wreaths and miniature snowy villages on display well into January. One can't blame them, given the pall of melancholy that so often shrouds the weeks of January and February. A part of me wants to keep the tree up longer because it reminds me of the fun of Christmas day and the memories of Christmases now hidden away in photo albums and reels of Super-8 movies.

Nevertheless, I know it has to go - in our case, taken apart and folded into a box, bound for storage until next December. By Epiphany, we're no longer turning on the lights or adjusting the angel on top. Ornaments have dropped to the tree skirt below and no one has bothered to replace them on the tree. The skirt itself has become a wrinkled mess, where just a couple of weeks before, we were vigilant in keeping it neatly arranged beneath the tree. Although it's the season of Epiphany, which lasts until Shrove Tuesday on February 5th, one might observe that we're already looking ahead - albeit symbolically - to the season of Lent. Indeed, it's no accident that some of the symbols we associate with Christmas actually presage the events commemorated in Lent, Holy Week, and Easter.

Even without the religious iconography manifest in the Christmas tree and its decorations, the act of throwing out the tree (or packing it away, for those of us with artificial trees) can also symbolize a discarding of the previous year. While we're cleaning up and reclaiming that space in our living rooms and dens, we're facing a new year and, we hope, starting with a clean slate for the next twelve months. (Yet I can't help wondering - still - about the motivation behind throwing out the tree only a day after Christmas. I guess the practice is so antithetical to my own notions about Christmas, that I can't grasp the rationale behind it. In the end, I can only guess that it's the act of a melancholy heart.)


One Wink at a Time said...

My tree is still up. People look at me weird to find that out, but I don't care. It's pretty and I like it. I never undecorate all at one time, either. I do it in stages so the house isn't all bare-looking all at once. I don't have a set day to take it down. Soon it will need dusting... maybe then.

Isabel said...

I hear you...in my house we also struggle with letting go of the Christmas decorations while we still welcome the space for the New Year. My son always complains that the house looks empty, but the funny thing is that as soon as everything is packed and in storage, our hearts and minds go on Year mode- moving furniture around, reinventing our space and ourselves.

BooCat said...

I keep my Christmas decorations up until Epiphany. This seems to bother a fundie neighbor of mine who always inquires about when the wreath is coming off the door. I always tell him not until Twelfth Night. This has become an annual ritual.

This year when I went to a friend's Twelfth Night party, (She and her husband are members of our parish.) he inquired about where I was going "all dressed up." When I told him a Christmas party, we once again had the Twelve Days of Christmas discussion. Maybe next year he will finally become accustomed to the crazy Episcopalian in the neighborhood.

One Wink at a Time said...

Boocat, isn't it amazing that instead of embracing diversity, so many people view what's different as some sort of abomination???

jblack designs said...

Believe it or not, last year I saw a spent Christmas tree at the curb when I went for a walk in my neighborhood on Christmas evening. Unbelievable.

People start the season so early these days that by Christmas they're sick of the whole thing.

I'm a pack-it-all-away-on-New-Year's kind of gal, but I think we left our tree up until the 7th when I was growing up.

The memory fades. Like the trees.