Taking Down The Christmas Tree, And Hating Myself For Doing It

No way around it: today we are taking down the Christmas tree. It took over eight hours to decorate it, but that’s not why I always hate this annual task. Taking down the tree has always seemed to me like a symbolic rejection of all the ethical instincts and interactions of the season that the tree symbolizes. It is easier, somehow, to keep those ethics alarms tuned when this big, garish, lighted thing is dominating the living room, and shining out through the window into the street. One year, I managed to delay the Great Un-Christmasing until mid-February. There is something especially wrong and disrespectful about leaving this symbol of love, family, peace, generosity, continuity, community, kindness and more lying on its side, by the outgoing trash. This years Frasier Fir was a good tree that did it’s job well, and deserves better. Another year, I hated the idea of leaving our tree by the curb so much that I threw it down the bamboo-covered hill behind our home.

I wish I had the courage and resolve of the woman profiled in the Charlotte Observer on December 26, 1999. I adapted it in 2008 for the original script of “An American Century Christmas,” a musical revue recalling old-style TV Christmas specials as well as songs Christmas literature and movies.

The artificial Christmas tree in Cathy Riviere’s living room has been up for 24 years. She simply contends that Christmas is such a good thing for everybody, it shouldn’t have to end today. It should go on and on. In her case, it’s been going on a quarter century, with no end in sight. If there truly is a magic surrounding Christmas – something we all sense but can’t quite put our finger on – Cathy Riviere has found it.

“I know people think I’m crazy,” Riviere says. “It makes perfect sense to me. Is Christmas a date, or is it something else?”

 Children understand what she means perfectly, as does a tiny but hard-to-miss group of adults, who blink, glitter and glow with good tidings well past the holiday season.

The artificial tree in her living room, was originally bought for $11 on layaway, then smothered with 2,000 ornaments and lights. Everything you can think of is on it, from reindeer made of tongue depressors to Christmas balls sporting pictures of her grand kids. After 24 years, it’s not clear whether the tree is holding the ornaments up or vice versa. Each ornament tells a story and the sum of them tell her life, or at least the good parts. Riviere is not so different from the rest of us in imagining that the best stuff happens at Christmas, which may be one reason she wishes it would never stop.

 It’s surely part of the magic of the season, when a woman raised in a gas station by a widower can recall with fondness the mornings Santa left an orange, an apple, some nuts and a silver dollar in a big hunting sock. Now she sits in front of a plastic tree for hours on end, and lives such moments over and over again.

 “It’s my therapy. I’m 69 and I don’t take a single pill,” she says. “Whenever things get too much, I come in here and turn on the lights and I don’t feel so bad anymore. If only I could get the rest of the world in here.”

21 thoughts on “Taking Down The Christmas Tree, And Hating Myself For Doing It

  1. Good for her. When I lived alone, I once kept my tree up until March…and that included a gift-wrapped door. I also have a tongue depressor reindeer ornament, too.

  2. I’ve had friends who will alter the tree for the given holiday, as in hearts for Valentine’s Day, orange lights for October, etc.

    Needless to say, this can only be done with an artificial tree.

    Maybe having an artificial tree would help this feeling of sadness. Rather than it being thrown away to not even be made into aromatic matchsticks, it could be stored in a box in the attic, unseen but releasing Christmassy ions throughout the house year-round. I used to hang Christmas lights up year-round on my curtains in my old bedroom. They weren’t always on… but they were always there.

    • Since my dad has asthma we adopted living trees early (in a pot) that then was planted on the property. Many are giants today.

      My kids cannot have a live tree in the house due to allergies, so have never had a real tree. We upgraded our artificial one this year, catching the 75% off sales at Home Depot. Pre-lit tree with 8 color motifs next year!

  3. We have an artificial tree, and due to our cats, we do not put any ornaments at all. Just lights. Simple, beautiful, and I find it very relaxing to enjoy, especially at night. Usually up by Thanksgiving weekend, down 12th Night weekend. This last Thanksgiving weekend, needing both the cheer and tranquility it gives, I decided that rather than it being just our Christmas Tree, it would be our Winter Tree. I intend to keep it up in the living room until winter feels over for the season.

  4. Damn you, Jack – my tree has been down for more than a week but I was planning on taking down the remaining outside wreathes, lights and garlands today. Now they’re gonna have to stay up for a while longer. 😉

  5. Does your area have a recycling center for the trees? Some do. As a matter of fact, I don’t think that here we can leave them by the street but have to take them somewhere. It’s been too long since anyone in my family has used a live tree – I miss the smell of a fresh pine – but when my grandparents did they would just drag it out in a corner of the yard for the critters to find a home in. They did live on 27 wooded acres though.

    I’ve learned that if your live tree still has roots you can plant it, but it has to be done soon after Christmas. Or there are other ideas like these: https://www.care2.com/greenliving/ways-to-recycle-christmas-trees.html

    I’ve trimmed little small branches off an evergreen tree in the yard and made small winter scenes with them, some fake snow, whatever else I’ve felt like adding – toy deer for example – and stuck a small candle holder on it somewhere.

    There are ways to keep the spirit around in small ways.! 🙂

    • I’m glad I’m not the only who feels nostalgic for pine smell at Christmas!

      Starting the 1st of December to the 31st I basically do a Christmas blitz: nothing but Christmas music unless I’m in someone else’s car, as many Christmas or winter themed movies and shows, video games and books as I can find and go through (though I need to do better at decorating, hard to get the motivation when I’m a renter and it’s just my room). By the end of the month, I’ve had my fill of the Christmas season, gotten my goodwill vibes restored, and I’m ready to move on until next December, when I start to yearn for the magic again.

      I do the same thing with Halloween and the month of October.

  6. My tree will come down after evening prayer tonight, when the Christmas season officially ends in my church. I too find it to be a sad task. However, I will take it out to the backyard and redecorate it with garlands of seeds and berries for the birds, and it will become shelter for other backyard wildlife for the rest of the winter. That makes me feel better!

    • My mother considered it Catholic dogma that decorations had to stay up until, but then come down immediately after Epiphany (Jan. 12, I believe). Not sure that was the case but if Mom said so, that was good enough for us.

      My wife and I have an aluminum tree about three feet tall with small read globe ornaments on it, a red ribbon bow at the top and a gauzy red sash around its base. It comes out of a cabinet in early December and goes back in the cabinet after Christmas. Presto Chango.

      No need to say, “Aexa. Take down the Christmas decorations.”

    • Your church is at variance with English tradition (anathema maranatha). That tradition recognises the twelve days of Christmas and says that markings of the season should be removed on twelfth night, i.e. the night of the fifth of January (watch out for fencepost error). This is an implication of the idea that “to emphasise everything is to emphasise nothing”.

  7. Mine goes up the first weekend of Advent, and keeps collecting decorations until Christmas. Then it stays up until Candlemass. This year we’re living in an apartment so our tree is a tabletop rosemary one, but I look forward to going back to our usual tree.

  8. I love this post. It’s so timely for me. I decided on New Year’s Day for the first time to leave my beautiful tree up until after April 15. I have a home office tax preparation business and what better way to unwind at the end of the day but in front of my beautifully decorated tree watching the telly? A bit eccentric? Who Cares? You’ve made my day:))

  9. We’ve had valentine trees several times for similar reasons, several times not artificial. An extra one in an unheated addition stayed green longer. It’s still dark so early, that the tree with integrated fiber optics helps so much with winter blahs. With only one bulb, it’s no expense either. We still put live greens at the mantle, but they are less of a hassle for aging knees. A few decorations are tucked in the downstairs, so it never really ends.

  10. My father used to insist on getting a ball tree. After Christmas, we would set a fire on the ground, dig a hole, and plant the tree. Eventually, we had too many pine trees in the yard and had to stop.

  11. Taking down the Tree is symbolic of the end of a season. THE season, as far as duration, green-n-red pomp, and circumstance go; cold duration, pomp, and circumstance in these parts.

    Pitchers-n-Catchers report within the month, am I right?

  12. Took down the tree, removed window candles, but will leave front door wreath (which lights automatically at dusk and stays on all night) through the winter. One small statement.

    I recall vividly when relatives lived in Puerto Rico that Epiphany was referred to as “Three Kings Day” only, the day they actually arrived in Nazareth to see the Baby Jesus. Everything was up until after that day, and the really important gifts were exchanged on the day the Three Kings brought theirs. I should know my Bible, but don’t (which makes me both a semi-agnostic and a cultural illiterate). Can anyone advise?

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