Last Day of Christmas
Took down the Christmas tree today, January 18th, and we might just be the last household in the country, if not the world, to do so. As the days after New Years turned into weeks I felt quite ashamed of the glorious little starlit evergreen adorning our window, even as I enjoyed its brilliance and beauty. Our neighbors’ windows darkened long ago, and one by one they even removed the outdoor lights from their bushes. Yet our tree remained.
Why? Exam papers. They needed not only grading but a thorough evaluation and notation as they accounted for 8 weeks of teaching during my absence this fall, and at term we don’t just give students grades; we have to give each one a written report of how they must work to achieve each of the curriculum goals for the course. It was heady and absorbing work, and I found myself last week announcing to various classes that they better spend as much time evaluating their tests as I was doing because it was their fault my Christmas tree was still up to the shame of all Norway.
This was reinforced when I drove to town midday on January 14th and there, as surprising and hazardous to traffic as the sudden appearance of a herd of elephants along State Highway 101, was the sun – the actual fiery globe showing an inch of bare shoulder about over the mountain. I kept looking as I was driving, not only as if it were a herd of elephants, but a herd of exotically decorated elephants that warranted a second and third take and made me seriously think about stopping the car and causing everyone behind me to stop and look too.
The sun was up over the mountain top, which at 200 meters is our horizon. There it was after all this time, acting as if everything were normal. But it was not normal. It was new! And my first thought after the initial shock and delight was “Oh god, all the dust will start showing, we’ll have to clean.” My second thought was, “Oh god, the Christmas tree is still up!” Somehow a lit Christmas tree and a sunlit sky are just too incongruous to allow.
It turns out my tree being up until the end of the third week of January was not such a big shame after all. My tree may have been the last to fall, but it wasn’t so long after the deadline as I had feared. Some of my students said they had just taken their trees down, on the 20th day of Christmas.
If I were better at head math, or could be bothered to count on my fingers, I could find out when the 20th day of Christmas actually was, but it was sometime last week. So my Christmas tree came down on the weekend following the 20th day of Christmas. Not such a breach of cultural tradition.
Now the boxes are back in the attic and the tree snapped into kindling. The tree was dry, having been given its last drink on little Christmas Eve, or December 23rd, but hardly a needle had fallen. As I removed the ornaments the branches broke off easily, and I thought: Perfect kindling! The temperatures have dipped to below zero and we were out of wood in the house, so why drag the tree out to the curb for the garbage pickup?
So here I sit, enjoying the warmth and aroma of a small forest fire raging inside the wood stove. It seems the perfect end for a Christmas tree, to fuel the family fire. The dry needles catch the flame at a crackle and roar. It smells like the wilds.
It’s great to reclaim the house from the hands of Christmas. Now the days are returning and the New Year can start.