“Give me some light!” cries Hamlet’s
uncle midway through the murder
of Gonzago. “Light! Light!” cry scattering
courtesans. Here, as in Denmark,
it’s dark at four, and even the moon
shines with only half a heart.
The ornaments go down into the box:
the silver spaniel, My Darling
on its collar, from Mother’s childhood
in Illinois; the balsa jumping jack
my brother and I fought over,
pulling limb from limb. Mother
drew it together again with thread
while I watched, feeling depraved
at the age of ten.
With something more than caution
I handle them, and the lights, with their
tin star-shaped reflectors, brought along
from house to house, their pasteboard
toy suitcases increasingly flimsy.
Tick, tick, the desiccated needles drop.
By suppertime all that remains is the scent
of balsam fir. If it’s darkness
we’re having, let it be extravagant.
“Taking Down the Tree,” by Jane Kenyon
It’s a feeling familiar to anyone who has ever put up a Christmas tree: the soft sadness of taking it down.
The nostalgia of pulling out the ornaments is tempered with anticipation at the celebration that’s to come. There’s no such buffer when putting them away. We’re left alone with our memories.
And yet, as Jane Kenyon captures so well in the final lines of the poem, this familiar ritual is not all sad, or need not be. There is an extravagance that lingers from the joyful absurdity of a decorated tree in our living room that extends even to the darkness of its absence.
But this full range of feeling and expression and experience is only possible when we take the advice my dad gave me when learning to swing a baseball bat, and “follow through.” When we see the season to it’s close, including the days that follow Christmas in the arc that began weeks before.
For many families, this was somewhat easier to do this year as our Christmas celebrations needed to be extended due to quarantines and delayed flights and all the many complications that are sadly becoming more routine. It’s a practice we do our best to keep here within the church, remembering that Christmas is a season and not just a day.
Of course, keeping the party going means more opportunities for fun and rest. But it also gives us time to digest what we have seen and heard and felt. It provides opportunities to reflect and respond. To offer closure, in a way.
In taking the same care to take down the tree as we gave to putting it up, we model important truths about life: that endings are as natural as beginnings; that saying goodbye can be healing; that it’s okay to be sad; that making time for gratitude makes for a richer, more complete life.
That even darkness can be extravagant.