Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Oh, Tanenbaum...


I put away Christmas decorations today. I removed the garlands from the stairs, and from outside the front door, and I removed all the ornaments from the tree. It’s a sad task, and one that left me nostalgic for the days when I was a young married mother with 4 young children, all at home.

In those days, I always put up the tree right after Thanksgiving, and I didn’t take it down until the 12th day of Christmas, January 5th, so that we could enjoy it as long as possible. I always did the lights myself, and literally spent several nights twining a couple thousand tiny white Italian lights through all the branches, getting them just so. Once the lights were on, the kids knew they’d get to hang the ornaments.

On that day, they’d rush home from school, and hurry impatiently through dinner and homework. Once the kitchen was cleaned up and the dishwasher running, we’d begin. With tapes of carols playing in the background, and with mugs of cocoa and a plate of Christmas cookies, we’d spend a long, happy evening together taking our time hanging the ornaments. Each of them had a few that they’d always hang themselves. Alex always hung the baby Jesus in half a walnut shell, that I bought for her at Crate & Barrel on Michigan Avenue in Chicago for her first Christmas in 1976; Katharine always hung the Hallmark pressed glass crescent moon with star and angel that I bought for her at Marshall Field’s in Chicago for her second Christmas, in 1979; Mike and Chris always hung the set of wooden firemen (and what a dilemma; there were 3 firemen, so they always let me hang one), that I bought for them at Crate & Barrel in Dallas when they were 3, in 1988. My own favorite, and the one that I always insisted on hanging myself, is a Chinese red wooden swan with woven wings that I received as a wedding gift in December, 1973.

We used to do theme areas on the tree. The kids got a kick out of hanging all of the cat ornaments beneath the bird and fish ornaments, and we had a Santa section, and a fishing boat section, etc., etc. I have a zillion tiny European wooden ornaments, and lots of beautiful blown glass ornaments. I don't know how many ornaments I have, but I've been collecting them for over 30 years, and I have boxes of them.

This year, with all the chicks out of the nest, I considered not putting this tree up. After all, this tree is BIG, 10 feet tall, and at the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, it just seemed like too much work. But when I realized everyone would be here on Christmas Eve, there was no question I’d put up this tree, and the garlands, and the zillion lights. I didn’t hang many ornaments, though. Hanging them alone just leaves me feeling sad, and hanging them is so personal, I can’t bring myself to invite friends to help me do it. It’s strictly a family sort of thing, but Katharine and Brenden had their own tree to decorate, as did Chris and Stephanie, and Alex was in Chicago, and Mike in Tucson, and hanging ornaments has never been Anthony's favorite thing...so I only hung a few ornaments, but still, it looked beautiful.

Mike leaves for college again on Wednesday morning, so tonight, with all the other detritus of Christmas packed away, he and Chris were going to take down the tree for me and put that away, too, until next year. Waiting for them, I plugged in the tree. Denuded of ornaments, but still brilliant with a couple thousand lights, it had it’s usual effect on me.

Mesmerized, I sat in the living room and just gazed into it for a while. Mike came home and joined me. He said, "I feel like I haven’t had a chance to do this this year; everything has gone by so quickly." I nodded in agreement, and we sat there together for a bit, reminiscing. Eventually, Chris showed up. He walked into the living room, looked at the tree and sat down with us. The three of us sat staring at the lights for a while, without saying anything, and then Chris said,
"We can do this tomorrow night."

And I guess we will, but...I wonder...do you think it would be too weird to just leave it up until next year? Because there’s something very nice about all those lights...

13 comments:

Jod{i} said...

Beautiful entry! Happy New Year!!!

Jodi

Phinney said...

I would leave it up and not find it weird. Something that makes you feel good can't be wrong!

~Phinney

Tammy said...

It really is beautiful Judi! Every ornament I buy reflects something we have done, so I understand the sentimental ornaments from the early years. I love the visual of the three of you savoring the last remnants of Christmas.

Anonymous said...

I can so relate to this entry. Matter of fact, I was just writing about the history of some of my favorite ornaments, when I took a break to read journals. I loved reading your memories, and hearing about how you and your sons got to share some time reliving those wonderful Christmases of the past, in silence. These are bittersweet moments. Sort of happy/sad ... but memorable and meaningful. Tina

Laura said...

well you are ahead of me....it might take me a few days since my mini vacation is over and it is back to work tomorrow for me...but then again my youngest birthday is next wednesday so perhaps I will get the trees down. Thank goodness they are artificial!
Oh, yeah, I finally blogspotted you!
Have a goo day.

Chris said...

If my tree weren't real, I would have left it up all year. There is definitely something magical about a lit christmas tree. Every night before Christmas my two boys, husband and myself would turn all the lights off and just sit and look and talk quietly about how lucky we are. Heck, leave it up!

Lisa :-] said...

I really do NOT want to hear about a 70 degree New Years Day...
I haven't taken my trees down yet. They'll most probably fall this weekend. Sigh!

Bluwave said...

My mother is a Christmas fanatic, so every year, one of my gifts to her is another ornament. My favorite one is shaped like a gingerbread cookie and has a little mouse taking a bite out of it. I always hang it front and center, cheesy as it is.

Many people in my neighborhood still have their lights up, so don't feel too bad.

Gannet Girl said...

My kids barely notice the tree anymore. I, too, thought a lot this year about when decorating it was an entire family evening of fun.

V said...

back in the "hippy" days, we used to keep lights strung up all year!
LOL
V

Judith HeartSong said...

this entry brought back so many memories for me...... good ones.... thank you.

dreaminglily said...

lol Nothing weird at all. If it was covered in Santas... okay that'd be weird lol But leaving it up all year would be great to me lol ::sigh:: Took ours down a few days ago though. But we had multi lights, it wouldn't have looked at all normal lol

Glad you all had a "moment" together. Those are rare and precious.

~Lily

Judith HeartSong said...

I got your comment... hope you are faring all right.