My Christmas tree is at the curb. My fridge is full of hearty greens and non-dairy milks. I’m eyeing the exercise bike with renewed interest and contempt, and I’ve started a bullet journal.

In other words, it’s January.

The excitement and anticipation that began in December has passed. The decorations we feverishly brought out — greenery, Christmas lights, tree trimming — are being stripped and put away, one by one, while the house is quiet.

Putting up the tree is always such a collective effort: 5 of us selecting, lugging, propping, straightening and bickering. Five of us hoisting, stringing and unboxing, racing to lay claim on favorite ornaments, prominent tree branches and nostalgia. (Only one of us vacuuming.)

Taking the tree down, on the other hand, happens while children are at school. Undecorating is a solitary activity: the tree and me. This is how I like it. Because what starts as a chore motivated by my growing anxiety about the massive fire hazard in the middle of my living space, becomes a time to quietly examine each ornament before I place it in the box until next year.

Sure, we have a lot of unsentimental trimmings. But, we also have ornaments given to my children as babies, pictures of toddlers that have morphed into teenagers, mementos of dogs that are no longer with us. My son has an awesome collection  — given to him by his godmother — of his Halloween costumes over the years in ornament form. As a result, hanging among the silver bells and glass icicles are a dinosaur, a Darth Vader, a headless horseman, a whoopie cushion, a creepy nun and a hamburger.

These are what I love to look at — feeling a little sentimental, without fanfare. Removing ornaments from a Christmas tree strikes me as its own kind of melancholy, a marking of the passage of time. I wonder what will have changed in our lives when I see these ornaments next.

The process is the same each year: take the house apart and put it back together. This is what we constantly do, isn’t it? It happens seasonally, but repeats on small and large scales over the course of a lifetime. Collective excitement over new stages, quiet rearranging as needs grow or fall away.

We build ourselves — our routines, our very beings — around a season and the season changes. Inevitable and expected, surprising and upheaving nonetheless.

Take the house apart and put it back together.

As I squirrel away the singing snowmen, sneaking two a day into the closet, I recognize that there might be lessons here as I approach the new year. A year that will include, among other things, a new driver’s license and college applications. The house I’ve arranged is about to be taken apart and reconfigured, in ways I can anticipate and ways I cannot. So I might as well get used to it. I started with the Christmas tree.


  • Liz

    Yes! Well said. This part so true: “Inevitable and expected, surprising and upheaving nonetheless.”

    • Jennifer Gaites

      Thanks, Liz!

  • Betsy Boyle

    Spot on. Always a pleasure to read your heartfelt observations. Betsy

    • Jennifer Gaites

      Thanks, Betsy! I appreciate your reading and your feedback!

  • Kathy

    I love your writing. This piece is beautiful and so true.

  • Julie Landy

    Love your post, Jen! Happy 2019! We’re getting into new territory with the driver’s licenses and college apps. Always look forward to your posts! XXOO


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