OK, show of hands. How many of you still have your Christmas tree up? If you could look at me right now you would see my hand raised high in the air. I am of the school that advocates, “Don’t take it down too soon.”
I know there can be good reasons to de-Christmas one’s house. The tree gets dry. The vacation time is ending. You’re headed out for a ski weekend and this is the only time you have.
At my house, though, the needles are still pretty green, Orthodox Christians just celebrated Christmas, and if you are counting, bring us all the way up to January 5th. I’m not going away for awhile. My Christmas tree is still up.
Of course taking down the tree is only the start. At my farm there are Christmas decorations scattered throughout the house. Over the last few days I have been gathering all those like the shepherd I am, bringing my flock of Santas and reindeer back home to the stable (closet) where they will spend the next 11 months.
Inevitably, though, some particular decoration will escape my notice. When I finally see it, a few weeks from now, I will be presented with a dilemma. Shall I try to get it back to the box, now back pushed back to the recesses of the closet? Or shall I just tuck it somewhere to wait out the time until Christmas comes around again and just hope I remember where I put it? I have had some decorations miss a Christmas or two waiting in some dark place until I stumbled back on them and got them to where they could be seen again.
I also imagine I’m not alone, when I finally do take down the tree, in overlooking a decoration there too. I do have the advantage that my Christmas trees stay on the farm, even after they go out of the house. They are carried to the burn pile every farm has, waiting until the spring to be part of a bonfire. More than once, when all the needles have dropped off, I have spotted an overlooked ornament in time to rescue it. Then it too goes into some dark corner where, as with other overlooked decorations, I might remember to get it out the next Christmas.
All of this brings me to the poignant question I face every year at this time. When does Christmas end?
We spent the month of December and even earlier in a season of hope. We spent Christmas celebrating the angels’ message of Peace on Earth. We gathered in community and sang “Joy to the World.” Now here we are in January. Hope seems distant. Joy is dim. The possibility of peace on earth seems more remote than ever as we read this week’s headlines.
I know it is hard to keep Christmas going. Maybe, more subtly and more difficult, how do we keep the meaning of Christmas alive within us all year long? During December we can get overwhelmed with the extravagance, the marketing, and the external trappings on the season. In January we can let that go. But the message of the season, that the Word became flesh and lives among us, that the Light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it, can center us in profoundly hopeful and joyous and peacemaking ways. That message will sustain us, even as we take the Christmas tree down, and put the decorations away, and look again at the troubling headlines in the world and in our own lives.
So here is my January blessing, for myself and for you as well. May we all find that centering that carries us through 2020. May we live into the words of Ebeneezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol:
“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.“