January 19, 2004,
In early December, it seemed like such a good idea: We'll have two Christmas trees!
This would solve all manner of problems. Mommy could decorate the nine-foot Fraser Fir in the living room with assorted Christopher Radkos, delicate glass orbs from her grandmother's childhood, and a pewter replica of a 1975 Corvette, the lone remnant save memories of her pre-children past.
The kids could adorn the four-foot fir in the kitchen with their own priceless treasures: the wreath made out of macaroni painted red and green, the reindeer made of Popsicle sticks, and the crowning touch a lined-paper cutout of Sponge Bob Square Pants, hung with a contorted paper clip.
George Will once lamented that his wife, inexplicably, did not share his desire to decorate their Christmas tree with 28 glass balls bearing the emblems of major-league-baseball teams. The Wills could learn a lesson from the Grahams. With two trees, everybody's happy.
But then, all of a sudden, it's January 19, and there is not only one, but two dead trees in the house, shedding needles all over the carpet. What seemed like such a good idea a month ago now ranks somewhere between the Ford Pinto and HillaryCare in the grand pantheon of ideas.
This is the trouble with January. It starts out all shiny, bursting with resolutions and collards, and then a few weeks later, what have you got? Gray skies, insolent cold, and the prospect of Valentine's Day. I am literally and figuratively frozen, caught in the grip of an insidious January paralysis that seems to clutch me tighter each year.
Back in my 20s, when I still felt like I was playing house as I gradually established a domicile, the Christmas tree and its accompanying bric-a-brac were put away by January 2, at the latest.
In my 30s, evidence of Christmas remained until around January 6. I explained away the apparent slothfulness as a new and zealous devotion to the feast of the Epiphany and the 12 days of Christmas.
The year I turned 40, the tree came down on January 9.
And now, at 41, with the mid-month pay period already passed, I am thinking very seriously about taking the trees down tomorrow. Of course, I'm very busy, so it may have to wait.
Following the current progression, when I am in my 50s, the tree will be there, needle-free, but radiating my procrastination to the neighbors well into Holy Week.
I'd like to attribute my inability to let go of Christmas to simple laziness, the inevitable conclusion of a month of mirth and merriment, and eating patterns contemptuous of Atkins. A body at rest remains at rest, et cetera.
But, in truth, I still rise each day at 5 A.M. to run three miles before the children get up and turn the damn trees on. The rest of the household hums along efficiently as ever: Projects are edited, babies diapered, thank-you notes written, anti-freeze topped off, ill-fitting gifts returned, bean soups simmered.
But Christmas remains, mocking me, and it's browning around the edges.
It's not just me, I know. A friend writes on January 15 that he and his wife also have yet to touch their tree. "Maybe it's the fact that I wake up in the dark and get home in the dark, that lack of sunlight. Or maybe it's all those New Year's resolutions I know I'll never keep. Or maybe it's just facing another year older."
Maybe. Or maybe it's simpler than that.
Looking around at the mayhem red-and-green storage boxes stacked high, a pile of tangled brass window candles, bags of bows snared for ten cents each at Target the week after New Year's I realize that part of the problem is the sheer volume of stuff.
Twenty years ago, putting Christmas away involved stripping a sparsely decorated tree, throwing away another pile of ill-tempered lights, and packing a few Christmas mugs.
But oh, how the stuff has accumulated.
Now, the Christmas stash takes up fully one-third of the attic. There is sinfully expensive holiday china to be packed carefully in bubble wrap, just in case we wind up moving. (Dreadfully, there are now two sets of Christmas china, because of a moment of weakness on Black Friday of last year.)
There are Christmas clothes and throw rugs and linens that must be washed and ironed so the stains won't set for a year. There is a multitude of manger sets, in porcelain, plastic, and wood. There are two dozen or so holiday CDs and a box of scratched Christmas albums, distributed by Goodyear in my youth, that I can't bring myself to throw away. There are cookie cutters, candleholders, a rocking horse that plays "Silent Night," innumerable baskets trimmed in red and green, and a snowman statuary.
There is, I'm ashamed to confess, a large box filled with nothing but holiday pillows.
And yet, as Christmas stuff goes, I'm only a moderate. I have not succumbed, as have other women, to Christmas shower curtains and flannel sheets sporting reindeer on each bed. I have my limits. I have some dignity.
And I have two Christmas trees on January 19.
Jennifer Nicholson Graham is a freelance journalist who lives in Richmond, Virginia.