I don’t like Christmas tree decorations that strain to mimic the sterile perfection of design magazine photos–all matchy-poo and symmetrical, with perfectly coordinated ornaments, all of the same pattern or color.

My Christmas trees are living memorials to Christmases past.

When I decorate, I start with the most precious ornaments–the ones full of memories and meaning. There’s the little snowman, holding a shovel, from 2000-2001, when it seemed like Mike was out there in the driveway, shoveling tirelessly, every night.

There’s the fat little angel made from a bleached seashell, holding a bouquet, that my Mom gave me the year I was married, saying it reminded her of me in my wedding gown. I took it as a backhanded compliment back then, but I love that thing now, and keep it protected in several layers of bubble wrap in the ornament box devoted to the most meaningful decorations.

There’s the school-made snowflake ornament, with Angelic Daughter’s picture in the center, and another she gave my Mother, her Grandma, with her picture and a recording of her voice saying, “merry Christmas, Grandma! Love you to pieces!” The battery has died, and there doesn’t seem to be a way to replace it, so that digital recording is gone now.

The lights go on first, then the swag chains of beads, and then all the highly sentimental ornaments, followed by the more ordinary ones, then the “fill-ins.” I confess that a few years ago, I bought few boxes of those “matchy-poo” ornaments to for a larger tree when my collection of memories didn’t quite bedazzle the whole thing, but those are a last resort.

The star goes on top once everything else is in place.

When I undecorate, as I did Saturday, I start with the special ornaments so they get wrapped up safe and snug and tucked back into their special box.

And that’s when the tears come.

This year, it was the shoveling snowman and the hand-painted globe that got me. Both trigger memories of Mike. You alread know about the shoveling. As for the globe, Mike gave it to me the first Christmas we were together. It’s a transparent blue glass orb with a map of the earth painted on the inside.

Tears dropped on the ornaments as I put them back in their protective boxes. “I miss you, Bear. I miss your shoveling obsession and I miss the you that gave me the world.”

Angelic Daughter decided to take a nap while I undecorated. Maybe she remembered weepy moments from previous years, or maybe not, but something in her said this would be a good time to give Mom some space.

After I had my little cry, I got on with undecorating the rest of the tree, packing away ornaments, lights, and the star. I put the decorative candles, the Santa and the Angel and the little carolers back in the box, with more school-made sock snowmen, and our little stuffed Santa, Rudolph, and Clarisse.

After I carried the tree through to the garage (it was so much lighter than when we got it!) and shoved it into the Subaru, I swept and vacuumed up piles of fallen needles, even though I know I’ll keep finding more in corners and under end tables until next Christmas anyway. After Angelic Daughter got up, we drove to the forest preserve to add our tree to the pile to be fed into a chipper and spread as mulch along paths in the spring.

Decades ago, I told my Mom that I hated January. She responded immediately with a perky, “oh, I love it!” I thought she was nuts, but this year, I began to understand. After the tree was down, the living room suddenly felt airier, more spacious, more–breathable.

I get it now, Mom. January meant the pressure was off. No more cooking, baking, and merry-making. In your day, there was a lot of competitive pressure from the other wives–whose hors d’oeuvre were the tastiest and best presented, whose table looked most festive, who made it all look effortless while also looking glamorous.

During these pandemic years, many people felt disappointed, but ultimately relieved, that travel was canceled, and family members who really don’t like each other that much were given a reprieve from gathering. Angelic Daughter was very anxious that it be “just the two of us.”

We had good holidays. But now in January, I feel a lightening, as if getting back to the ordinary rhythms of our days will be good for us. We’ll find pleasure in many little things, like the glare on the ice glazed snow, and the first buds of spring, when they come.

Letting go and moving ahead, I remain,

Your hopelessly sentimental, but trying to be positive and practical,


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