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Life in Retirement: Packing up after Christmas


Christmas Trees look so strange once Christmas is over, sitting there in the middle of the room all disheveled and dusty from their former glory days of a few weeks ago. They had risen again in triumph back then, in the month’s earlier days, to stand watch over the festivities, the joys and the love sparkling all around. Did I appreciate Christmas enough this year? It truly does involve all the things I’m grateful for, and the bright beacon of light from the tree melts so much of the cold and short winter days.

For three weeks we are all bolstered by it – me for the warm glow, my daughter for the excitement of the presents underneath, visitors for the efforts made to mark the season. Even the pets are lifted – the cat for the fun new hiding places and the dog for the mistaken belief that it’s there for him to pee on. We write the cards and toast the season and make plans for the coming year.

We debate the merits of fruit cake and snack on toasted turkey sandwiches and figure out the new contraptions that were unwrapped on Christmas morning. We work on puzzles every once in a while and nod off once in a while and read a lot. We laugh a great deal and sometimes also shed a quiet tear for those who aren’t with us. A host of events and emotions and memories – all under that tree. It always goes up with such a flourish, with lights and merriment like a brand new ship that’s setting sail.And it comes down so quietly and quick, all the trinkets wrapped and tucked away again in the storage room downstairs. And always with the assumption that there will be another unpacking and re-decorating. And another after that.

The bins are layered with tissue and packaging that protect the things that are so very dear. Grandma’s precious golden ball that has survived since The Depression, Mom’s handmade tassels and my daughter’s tiny felt handprints from Kindergarten. Generations of mismatched treasures and gaudy children’s art – some of it mine.

Some items from long-ago lost loves, others from brand new friends. Some bought from the store, some fashioned with whatever was at hand. Newer and older, pristine and decrepit – together they tell our tales through the ages. Will anyone else know the stories behind these trinkets when they unpack them, like when I’m no longer here? Have I told enough of their stories to my daughter so that some will strike a tiny memory when she opens the bins in the years to come? If only I could harness the love held in each of them and have it sprinkle onto her with each year’s unveiling, like fresh hope, renewed optimism, love. Comfort and joy.

For a few weeks each year I’m surrounded by tiny witnesses to history, shiny tributes to days and people gone by. The world seems full of possibility and promise when you can hold your great-aunt’s homemade pottery bell in the palm of your hand, as though it reaches down through the generations and somehow touches your heart. And then it, too, gets wrapped and whisked away.

Next year I will pick a few off the tree now and again and tell their stories so they can keep reaching up through the times to come. Maybe I’ll host an ornament-making party, so we can all add a few new pieces into the mix. Maybe I’ll even keep one up for the entire year, stowing it beside the pictures and candles on the mantel. And choose a different one the following year. And then, when each festive season is over, I will bring up the bins and pack them all up again.

I will think about the season that has once again come and gone, remembering the highlights and counting my blessings for all the many things that are bright and joyful for this special month of the year. And pledge, like always, to carry that feeling into the new year’s days to come.

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