When I was growing up, the Christmas tree went up shortly after Thanksgiving and didn’t come down until well into January. The outside Christmas lights stayed up even longer.
“I guess they’re Valentine’s Day lights,” I told someone on an early February evening as we drove past the lights on the rosebushes that lined our driveway. I was a teenager and slightly embarrassed by my family’s lack of togetherness when it came to seasonal decorations. After all, Christmas was months ago. What possible need could there be for cheery little lights? Well, maybe just the fact that for months after Christmas comes and goes, the world remains dark and cold.
Like most young adults setting off in the world, I was determined to do things differently from what I’d known as child. At least when it came to Christmas decorations. Also like most young adults setting off in the world, I discovered that the habits I was so determined to break away from were in fact, unshakeable. Still, this December, I wrapped the curtain-less curtain rods above my windows with tinsel and hung ornaments from and I vowed then and there that those decorations would be down by Epiphany.
On the morning of January 6th – Epiphany – I pulled out the big plastic bin I keep all my seasonal decorations in and began to systematically put away all the decorations hanging from windows and strewn about the little cabin. But I balked when I reached the kitchen window. Six snowflakes in a rainbow of colors hung in the bows of red tinsel from the window’s curtain rod. Drawn to their bright colors, I couldn’t resist the three-dimensional ornaments when I spied them in the Victoria and Albert Museum gift shop in London two years before. Now, as they hung in the window, brightening the dark corner of the cabin with color and memories, I felt my strict “decorations down on Epiphany rule” bending.
Snowflakes weren’t really Christmas decorations anyway. More like winter decorations. Heck, I decided, those snowflake ornaments could stay up until the snow melted.
It wasn’t until I reached into my plastic bin to grab the St. Patrick’s Day decorations that I realized the snow outside was dripping off rooftops and turning to slush outside. The snowflake ornaments still hung in the kitchen. For the first time in the four months since I’d hung them up, the snowflakes had started to look a little silly.
That’s not to say that the snowflakes came down right then and there. Oh no. They hung around until the Easter decorations were overdue for display. My impulse to decorate my minimal living space with somewhat corny seasonal decorates seems to correlate vaguely with the period of time when we are not on daylight savings time. As the light returns and the snow fades away, the need for “self-brightening” diminishes. Once these Easter decorations come down, the Shack will be decoration free until Halloween. And by the time the first wildflowers are popping up, I’ll be swearing that next year I’ll get my act together and take down the Christmas decorations in a timely manner.
But more often than not in northern Minnesota winters, our inherent needs win out over our best-laid plans. In the dark period between fall and spring equinoxes, we learn to make our own brightness. When brightness comes as easily as unseasonal Christmas lights and misplaced snowflakes, we know that at the heart of life, there can’t be much to complain about.
Airdate: April 2, 2010