If decorating the tree is a Christmas tradition, then dismantling the tree is a New Year’s tradition, and one that I find unspeakably sad. I like having a colorful, glittery piece of art in the corner of the living room, especially one that looks different each year while still displaying our venerable ornaments.
We have a tradition of buying a Christmas ornament wherever we travel. That way, every time we decorate the tree, we remember all the wonderful places we’ve been. Sometimes we’re reduced to buying a generic decoration – undoubtedly made in China – with only printing on it to remind us of its origin, like the sleigh-bound Santa that reads “The Cotswolds.” But sometimes we have something a bit more appropriate, such as a kangaroo clutching a boomerang from Australia or a moose with ornaments on its antlers from Wyoming.
But there are other memory-inducing ornaments, and the thoughts they inspire may be more so when they’re going back in the storage box as opposed to going on the tree, which is a more aesthetic than reflective process. So many of them relate to friends and the inevitable bittersweet passage of time.
We have numerous decorations that are framed photographs of our cats. Hanging the picture of Bandit, whom we lost this year, was especially sad. Even the numerous UC Berkeley ornaments brought up kitty memories: our oldest, Tuxedo, managed to break several of the Cal ornaments, while leaving the Stanford ones intact. Monica thought I trained him to do this, which is ridiculous, because Tuxedo always had a mind of his own. Nevertheless, over the years I have bought extra Cal ornaments to atone for his behavior.
Christmas is such a loaded holiday, one that combines stress and happiness in fairly equal doses. Taking down the tree is just one event in this ying and yang – sadness for the holiday’s end and happiness for both its past joy and the new, blank year to come.
Sometimes, there’s too much on the sad side. At the top of the tree, we usually put two beautifully painted miniature birdhouses. These were wedding favors at the nuptials of a former co-worker; I don’t see her as often as I’d like, and the marriage has long since dissolved, but it lives on in those little birdhouses with their initials stamped on the bottom. There’s also an ornament from the Olympic Peninsula, purchased on a trip with another couple whose marriage has since ended.
At the end of the process is the removal of the skirt we put underneath the tree. Generally this is used for presents, but since we don’t give presents anymore, it’s actually a sanctuary for the cats. Throughout December, we walk into the living room and see one and maybe two pairs of eyes peering out from under the tree. It’s a safe haven that I hate taking away from them.
Once the skirt is gone, it’s traditional to discover the broken ornaments. For a few years, we tried having an “ornament-free” zone at the bottom of the tree to avoid cat-batting, but the tree always looked weird, and the cats could always reach higher than we thought. So we put the wooden ornaments at the bottom and the more fragile ones higher up. It didn’t help.
When I removed the skirt this year, I found one of the ceramic ornaments, only slightly damaged but still usable. Unfortunately, it was one of the many Cal ornaments. I put it back in the box without telling Monica, because she’ll think I’m still training the cats behind her back.