The Lifecycle of the Holidays

I like Thanksgiving. I don’t really like turkey, but I do like pie and forced gratitude. I decorate the table in brown and orange, presumably to match the turkey and the carrots. It’s fine. But really the best part of Thanksgiving is when it’s over, because I can get going on Christmas. If I can catch my husband in a great mood or not listening, I’ll trick him into getting our tree on Black Friday. If I have to wait another week, I spend it pacing and nagging.

The weeks before Christmas put me in the mind of a five-year-old. I carry the box of ornaments down from the attic and open it like it’s the Ark of the Covenant. I unveil each one, and share its story. Great Grandmother Alice knitted this clown out of yarn. Great Nana sewed the hair onto this tiny angel. We got this one the year you were born. My stories are met with mostly glassy eyes, but when my tree is done, I am overwhelmed by the beauty. I wake up early so I can sit next to it in the dark. I decorate the mantle and then over-decorate it. Everyone’s beds are remade with Christmas sheets. It’s hard to find a place to rest your eyes where something isn’t twinkling a loud message: Christmas is Coming!

The month passes, and on the morning after Christmas, I walk downstairs and the magic is gone. My house has transformed from one long White Christmas dance number to Jake Ryan’s house after the big party in Sixteen Candles. What is all this crap? Who put a dead tree covered in chotchkes in the middle of my family room? Its previously upbeat limbs point downward, like it’s just finished a really big shrug. Pine needles and fallen ornaments cover the floor. I grab the ornament box and start tossing things in. No longer am I treasuring the memory that each one brings; I’ve got get them out of my sight.

I do this Jekyll and Hyde thing every year. The transformation is both sudden and predictable. On December 26, my Christmas wonderland looks like Las Vegas during a garbage strike. Nothing’s changed but the calendar, but the anticipation is gone. Every sparkly, glittery inch of those first 25 days was a promise of what’s to come. When the day has come and gone, all that stuff is just clutter reminding us that the party’s over. Even the cheery tableau of Santas I’ve assembled on my mantle looks like a bunch of fat guys waiting for a bus.

This turns the week after Christmas into the longest of the year. I find that getting things back up to the attic is not as easy as it was bringing them down. This is both a consequence of gravity and the fact that no one’s excited to help. Because setting up Christmas, which is effectively making a huge mess, is a lot more fun than cleaning it all up. Regardless, those me-size toy soldiers that flank my front door have got to go. They’re giving me a look I don’t like. I rip their detachable heads off and carry them up myself, and their decapitated bodies stand there for days until someone stronger than me yields to my heavy sighs and hauls them up.

This morning I ran across a tiny forgotten Santa that I’d put by my son’s bed. He was peeking out from behind a lamp, and you’d have thought I saw a mouse. I grabbed it and raced up to the attic and stashed it away in that big bin of nonsense that I’m going to be thrilled to see in 11 months.