This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for January 14, 2021, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.
Christmas was a bright ending to the difficult, dark days of 2020, most folks wanting it to last longer, at least through Twelfth Night. After all, I still haven’t eaten up all the Mexican Christmas cake, the chocolate covered cherries, not even all the pfeffernuesse! And I needed more time to enjoy the Christmas lights our granddaughters strung up all over the living room! Not to mention the Christmas tree! The child in me doesn’t want to let go of Christmas.
While most folks, myself included, enjoy putting the tree up and decorating the house before Christmas, we don’t like taking it all down and putting it away. My wife, however, is an exception. She says that she enjoys taking off each ornament and reminiscing about it, — “Awww, we bought this squirrel ornament when we were living in Michigan.” And also taking a final look at the new ornaments while labeling and dating them, — this year, a small stuffed owl and a koala bear, to remember the year these creatures made national headlines by being discovered occupying a Christmas tree.
In the 1930’s and 1940’s, before electricity came to the farms in Lee County, folks like my maternal grandparents took the tree down the day after Christmas, because a cedar tree, cut down in the woods and now dried up, could easily ignite from the beeswax candles on the tree. Even though we had electricity and electric Christmas lights, my mother also took our tree down the day after Christmas. She couldn’t stand what became clutter after Christmas and wasn’t about to wait until Epiphany to take it all down, even though that was the Lutheran tradition. However, you could always leave the nativity set up to await the coming of the Wise Men.
Also, putting away Christmas involved more than just taking the tree down, especially since we often over-decorated in our before-Christmas excitement and enthusiasm! Back in my childhood years, the wooded area behind our house was lush with not only cedar trees but also yaupon bushes with red berries (Texas holly) and mistletoe.
Yaupon, with its green leaves and red berries, seemed ideal decorations for Christmas, but, as a kid, I always thought mistletoe was rather ugly and un-Christmasy. However, I was told it was traditional to hang it at Christmas, so that you could kiss a beautiful girl under a sprig of it. The superstition was that if you were an unmarried woman and were kissed under the mistletoe, your chances of getting married were greatly multiplied.
Well, there was plenty of it in our woods as it was a prolific parasite living on the branches of our oak trees. The mistletoe was sacred to the ancient Celts, and the druids would worship in oak groves underneath the mistletoe, — possibly where the superstition started. The mistletoe usually dried up sooner than the yaupon, and I was always glad to see it go. The other things, though, I would like to have seen stay up longer, especially the tree. Yes, putting away Christmas was always a sad event for me as a child, and even now, for the child in me.
The lights, the brighter spirits, the excitement of gift-giving, the extra candy and cookies, relatives and friends visiting, the Sunday School Christmas program, the singing of joyful carols, Christmas Day worship at the church, etc., all made Christmas something children cherished and didn’t want to let go of. Years ago, I knew a young couple who kept their Christmas tree up the rest of the year, because their little daughter would throw a tantrum each time they attempted to take it down. How can you teach children to let go of the decorations and lights, but keep the spirit of love which came down in the form of Jesus at Christmas? I tried to teach my children, and myself, the real reason for the season which never withered and dried up.
In this sad old world we live in, it would be wonderful if we could keep that spirit of love and peace and goodwill toward men throughout the entire year. Because those beautiful things should live in our hearts all year, we are able to put away Christmas!
Ray Spitzenberger is a retired WCJC teacher, a retired LCMS pastor, and author of two books, It Must Be the Noodles and Open Prairies.