Putting Away the Holiday Season

(Photo by John Griswold)





When I woke from the nap it was dark in the room except for the lights on the tree. I was headachy and confused, and when I moved, my laptop woke too and lighted my face. The neighbor, coming home from work, was walking past my window just then and glanced in through cat-broken blinds. We were both surprised at the sudden intimacy. Then he glanced at my Christmas tree, still up in the third week of January, and looked strangely back at me lying on my couch in the near-dark.

My younger son says he likes a lighted tree for its light and warmth in a dark time. Amen, brother. I like a tree too, and he and I agreed there was no rush to take it down after the holiday, especially since his college started late this semester, and he was home a good long time.

My mother, who liked a good tree, used to leave ours up, when I was a kid, sometimes until Easter. I can remember being so little I could barely see through the lowest of three windows in our front door, and how one day deep into a new year the postman was outside and gestured at the tree through the window and laughed, and I looked over at the tree to see what was funny. In those days the trees were real, and the strings of big hot lightbulbs were considered a fire hazard one step removed from lit candles that used to go on trees.

My mom’s solution was to stop plugging them in after, say, mid-February—problem solved—and the cats eventually grew bored with eating the tinsel. By the time we dragged the tree out of the house it was so dry it was prickly as a porcupine. I think there were years my mother burned it at the curb, a second sacrifice that took mere seconds.

My tree now is artificial, so fire safety is not the issue. What is the issue? Well, for my part, the last vestiges of a love for the hunker-down of winter solstice, and the mild hassle of taking this thing apart and putting it in storage. Anyway, a person or two in my life has not seen it yet. I like how it looks.

I am not surprised my neighbor would be surprised by my tree, or even be concerned for my health, due to it still being up and the garish flash of my face in the dark. There is general consensus among those who practice these things that trees get taken down shortly after New Year’s. I have been surprised this year at what seems like a particularly strong push, on social media and the news, to enforce that it must come down by Epiphany.

I go my own way, but my kids are back to school or off on an internship now, and with that, the season is officially over for me, and all for the best. It is time to get up off the couch, work, walk, be ambitious, and take in the sun. To transition from a Christmas-stocking diet back to apples, Napa cabbage, lean proteins, and water.

Out in California, home of The Endless Summer, a distant phenomenon I used to register in the Midwest as the opposite of a winter holiday, my friend Larry still has his tree up. He goes his own way too. His record, he tells me, is eighteen months—from just after a particular Thanksgiving, through that Christmas, New Year’s, the spring, a blazing LA summer, another Thanksgiving, another Christmas, and almost to the second summer solstice. There’s a believer.

John Griswold

John Griswold is a staff writer at The Common Reader. His most recent book is a collection of essays, The Age of Clear Profit: Essays on Home and the Narrow Road (UGA Press 2022). His previous collection was Pirates You Don’t Know, and Other Adventures in the Examined Life. He has also published a novel, A Democracy of Ghosts, and a narrative nonfiction book, Herrin: The Brief History of an Infamous American City. He was the founding Series Editor of Crux, a literary nonfiction book series at University of Georgia Press. His work has been included and listed as notable in Best American anthologies.