Taking down the tree
Special to The Chronicle Wednesday, January 1, 2003
I'm sure there are people for whom taking down the Christmas tree is just another housekeeping task. But for me it is a ritual filled with sentiment. It is a melancholy process in which all phases of my life participate. There is the little me who wishes we could keep the tree up all year. Trying to persuade my parents to wait just one more week. There is the practical me of now, trying to find the magic way to wind up the lights so that we don't spend hours untangling them next December. The practical me tries to get up all the pine needles so I won't still be picking them up at Easter. And there is the future me, maybe wondering, like my mother did every year from 65 to 85, when might be the last year I'd be putting the Christmas decorations away.
I like decorating the tree with the family. It's a lively, social event, but somehow it just feels right to take it down alone. And I don't seem to get a lot of offers of help, so it works out fine. I work slowly, trying to fit more into fewer storage boxes. I try to edit a few nonsentimental items, and I stop to admire some special ornaments. There are the ones showing the goofy smiles of kindergarten, photos framed by glitter and green macaroni.
As my mother got older, her decorating for Christmas got more and more elaborate. As I pack things away, I wonder if I'll be that way. Her house at Christmas had an arrangement on every surface. The nativity scene on the mantel. Santa on the buffet. Rudolph on the bookshelf. Once in a while she would say, "I don't know, somehow this year just doesn't feel like Christmas." For me, it felt like Christmas every time I entered her warm little house after my long journey across the country.
As I carefully wrap the porcelain choirboys that were once hers and the few ornaments from my childhood trees, I think of her and of the warm and twinkling place she created. And I drift again to the future and to my own children and hope that such warm and twinkling memories will stick with them.
When the tree is empty and the storage boxes packed and stowed away in the basement, then someone else can take the tree to the curb, but the job of removing the decorations is mine and one I do reverently. I'm not at the point yet where I give a lot of thought to what might be the last year. Instead, this process is about memory and appreciation and a quiet, solitary ritual -- one in which all the times of my life melt into now.
There are some memories to share and some to savor alone.
E-mail freelance writer Susan DeMersseman at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article appeared on page HO - 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle