It's January 6... reflections on taking down the Christmas decorations

January 6 is the day when the Christmas decorations come down. In this article, which appeared in the 2022 Holly Bough, Marion Horgan, of Cobh, says it can be a spiritual, moving experience
It's January 6... reflections on taking down the Christmas decorations

Marion Horgan, of Cobh, and (inset) one of her baubles

THERE they are, that curious band of hardy annuals: angels, shepherds, Santas, snowmen, and fibreoptic fancies that invade our home for two or three weeks each year and stare into the middle ground, as my family and I create and take part in our own panto.

Mind you, they must have been wondering about the last two Covid Christmases, and realised that something was amiss.

It’s also funny how soon these visitors start to outstay their welcome, and seem somehow inappropriate, once Christmas Day is over.

That does not bother me unduly; due to post-Christmas sluggishness and possibly a smidgen of laziness, these creatures sometimes stay around ‘til January 6 or even longer!

For the past two years, I found I have been very grateful for them, as it was a time when structures of all kinds collapsed around me like a house of cards.

As I carefully remove the decorations from the tree every year, I have time to pause before placing them back in the storage boxes destined for the attic.

It’s a quieter time, compared to decorating the tree. My eyes rest for a moment on the snowman, who looks remarkably well after more than a quarter of a century’s service, proving how resilient the cardboard in the Weetabix box was. He is certainly not part of the snowflake generation!

His loyalty is unquestionable, as he stares down from between the pine branches.

Then there is the blue and white bauble given to me by a dear friend on a girlie trip to Amsterdam with a group of us to mark our 40th birthday. It is all the more precious since she passed unexpectedly five years ago.

Memories surge of an action song back in the late 1960s which our class performed in Feis Maitiu, in which Claire was the Little Dutch Boy and I was the Little Dutch Girl. A lifetime ago.

Next come the exquisite angels, made from pasta shells by the mother of a dear friend. Both have departed our shores.

When I hold these gems in my hand, I think of women who squeezed the last drop of life in the time allocated so randomly to them. 

And now, the red and green decorations fashioned so lovingly by the lady who minded my children while I worked. The skill of this lady knew no bounds, and she is still creating things of beauty.

Untangling three sets of lights is the next challenge and I am lucky my husband is around, as it’s a bit of a battle! Thankfully, lights are much more robust these days. Time was when it just took one bulb to fail, and none would light up. Oh, the weeping and gnashing of teeth by my Dad, as he searched for the faulty bulb!

Our crib, made many years ago by Transition Class pupils where I worked, must now be emptied, and the figures are laid on straw in their box, furloughed until next year.

The Christmas tree, denuded and redundant, will be separated into sections and also stored in the attic.

Every family has its own unique traditions. One of ours, which happened by default one year, is to leave one decoration somewhere in the house, usually from the family collection, to ensure continuity from one Christmas to the next.

We also got into the habit of recording on one of the biggest boxes the presents the kids received and the year. The box is now covered with writing!

I can’t help thinking of the importance of tradition and ritual in an increasingly uncertain world. They certainly bring some comfort and constancy.

Suddenly, the rooms look very bare. As we lift one of the boxes up to the attic, we hear a muffled ‘Ho Ho Ho!’ from inside. It sounds a bit surreal and a bit pathetic too, I have to say - Santa’s last ditch effort to avoid being relegated to the attic, where he will remain in darkness, in lockdown, as it were, until next year.

C’est la vie, Santa, you’ve had a good run!

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