What went up must come down. It isn’t just a law of physics. It is the reality of Christmas.
True, some houses have multicolored lights strung along their gutters year round, just not illuminated. And I’ve known some people’s artificial trees to stay up until Valentine’s Day or longer. But most of us dismantle what we so lovingly strung up, trimmed and decorated only a month or so ago. It is a sad day taking down Christmas.
As a child I was so reluctant to see the tree come down that I’d cut a sprig of evergreen branch, complete with tinsel, and would put it in a vase of water in my bedroom in order for a small part of Christmas to linger a little longer. By April it would be crispy dry and forgotten and my mother would sneak in and toss it out, without my even missing it.
All the anticipation is spent and our energy wanes. Winter has only begun and now we’re boxing up the twinkling lights and putting away the ribbons and bows. All the fun stuff is tucked away for another year in the garage and attic. Maybe we have the timing of this celebration all wrong. Instead of the Twelve Days of Christmas it should be the Twelve Weeks–the lights should stay up until St. Patrick’s Day at least, just to keep us out of the shadows and doldrums of winter.
Today, as I swept up the last of the fir needles that had dropped to the floor, I knew, like the tree that I watered faithfully in the house for over two weeks, I too have been drying up and parts of me left behind for others to sweep up. There had been the excitement of family brought together from all ends of the earth, friends gathering for meals and games, special church services, but now, some quiet time is sorely needed. The party simply can’t be sustained. The lights have to go off, and the eyes have to close.
So we will now walk into a winter replete with the startling splash of orange red that paints the skies in the evenings, the stark and gorgeous snow covered peaks surrounding us during the day, the grace of bald eagles and trumpeter swans flying overhead, the heavenly lights that twinkle every night, the shining globe that circles full above us, and the loving support of the Hand that rocks us to sleep when we need it.
We don’t need full stockings on the hearth, Christmas villages on the side table, or a blinking star on the top of the tree to know the comfort of His care and the astounding beauty of His creation, available for us without batteries, electrical plug ins, or the need of a ladder.
Instead of us pulling down Christmas, Christmas pulls us up from the doldrums, alive to possibility.
Every day. Year round. And we hold our breath, listening and waiting.
A perfect description of the persistence of Advent and Christmas comes from one of my favorite writers and theologians Frederick Buechner:
The house lights go off and the footlights come on. Even the chattiest stop chattering as they wait in darkness for the curtain to rise. In the orchestra pit, the violin bows are poised. The conductor has raised the baton.
In the silence of a midwinter dusk there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen.
You walk up the steps to the front door. The empty windows at either side of it tell you nothing, or almost nothing. For a second you catch a whiff in the air of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you’ve never been and a time you have no words for. You are aware of the beating of your heart.
The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.
The Salvation Army Santa Claus clangs his bell. The sidewalks are so crowded you can hardly move. Exhaust fumes are the chief fragrance in the air, and everybody is as bundled up against any sense of what all the fuss is really about as they are bundled up against the windchill factor.
But if you concentrate just for an instant, far off in the deeps of yourself somewhere you can feel the beating of your heart. For all its madness and lostness, not to mention your own, you can hear the world itself holding its breath.
~originally published in Whistling in the Dark and later in Beyond Words