“When tradition is thought to state the way things really are, it becomes the director and judge of our lives; we are, in effect, imprisoned by it. On the other hand, tradition can be understood as a pointer to that which is beyond tradition: the sacred. Then it functions not as a prison but as a lens.” ~ Marcus Borg
I’ve never been crazy about the day after; Christmas arrives and departs far too quickly. It feels like only yesterday that I was lugging our artificial tree in a wheelbarrow from barn to den, and lowering unending boxes of ornaments down from the attic. Now the pressure will be on to dismantle the Christmas tree and neatly stow away decorations for another year. Doing my best to stave off putting away Christmas is not another attempt at procrastination. While I have not been without my own moments of procrastination (to put it mildly), this is not one of those unnecessary delays. The prolonging of Christmas wrap-up has nothing to do with laziness, and everything to do with reluctance.
My reticence to put away Christmas is complicated. I love Christmas and everything that goes along with it, and the joy I share with wife and family in preparing for Christmas and celebrating the days before the Christ-mass is exhilarating. Something stirs down deep about a lighted Christmas tree surrounded by a mosaic of packages in assorted shapes, sizes, and density, glowing in the corner of the den until bedtime. Tradition is tantamount to celebration. We enjoy simple ones like watching and listening to Bing Crosby as our annual holiday companion while he croons “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” and portrays our favorite Irish priest of all time, Father O’Malley, in “Going My Way” and “Bells of St. Mary’s”, gathering with family on Christmas Eve, and attending together the Candlelight and Communion service at the little Bosqueville Methodist Church. Like it or not, today’s Christmas cheer turns into tomorrow’s Christmas memory.
This year’s reluctance to close out the season comes from a deeper awareness of the brevity of life than from fascination with this sacred day. The absence of loved ones alters the tone and volume of celebration. Change is hard, especially when it means someone sacred is missing. This is the third Christmas without Mom and our first without Popi, and much of this year’s family conversation takes the shape of memories that includes them. They’re not the only ones noticeably absentee. Mr. Evans from down the lane is still alive, but he resides now in a home for those that can’t remember. Our neighbors’ father is in a home for those who can remember, but have lost the physical strength to do much more than that. The absence of these I care about leads me to engage in some soul searching of my own, and forces me to face squarely the fact that I’ve already celebrated more Christmases than I have left to celebrate– sobering realization. Instead of mourning loss, I pay tribute to what has been before and extol the virtue of what remains. Everyone chooses their own memories. I have no option as to putting away Christmas for another year, but I choose to keep the best memories and look for that which is holy in every day.