The World Set Apart

I’m getting a slow start this day, as yesterday I cooked all the things.  One weird compensation of getting older is that i can pull off three course meals with everything done on time and properly.  Well… the lamb was a bit overdone because I underestimated the time it took to cook.  I was using an unfamiliar (brand new when we moved here) countertop oven.  Better next year.

The day after Christmas — or New Years or any other big celebration  (like landmark birthdays) for which you prepare for years — always seems a little sad.  You see, you’re coming down for a “special” world to the ordinary one.

That tree that looked magical sparkly is now just a dead piece of greenery with some baubles.

It’s a good thing my allergy to pine (I get migraines every day while one is indoors) constrains us to an artificial tree.  I used to get very upset to see the branch (there were no Christmas tree lots in the village, and dad refused to kill a tree for Christmas, so he’d shimmy up and cut a 3 to 4 foot branch.)  which had been decorated and made so much of suddenly consigned to the compost tree.  Since I anthropomorphized most things as far back as I can remember, I used to imagine its bewilderment at being suddenly trash.  I have a vague idea I wrote a story about it, but maybe I just read one.  It’s not an unusual piece.

Our tree just gets packed in its box and put in the basement (not today, I have a book to finish, but probably Wednesday/Thursday, the day after the book sails into my publisher’s office.  It occurred to me today while cleaning the kitchen (Dan did a few loads of dishes yesterday, but I put the last load in this morning.  Now I’m soaking the burnt roasters in dishsoap, hot water and a dryer sheet — did you know it removes all the burn after a couple of hours.  It’s like magic.  I love it — for scrubbing later.)that this is sort of time capsule and an act of faith.  The time capsule is not as pronounced now, as we saved the bubble wrap from moving for the ornaments, so it’s not newspapers and rough drafts of my manuscripts.  It used to be opening the ornaments next year was a trip “I was working on this?  Really?  Oh, and look, remember that thing where they had a duck race?”

The act of faith remains, though.  Every time we wrap things up and put them away, we’re saying “I trust that next year we’ll be well enough and have a home, and be able to put up the tree.”  It’s failed once or twice, when I was too ill, or Dan and I were too busy, (you have NO idea) or we were moving.  And it will one day fail completely, as it does for everyone (I hope the boys keep the unusual and collectible glass ornaments.  The indifferent “balls” many of them starting to show 30 years of age, can be donated.  Actually we might do that when the kids move out or I should say “have independent households” since both have more or less moved out, but still come back for stuff.  They should be in their own lives, and possibly out of state in two years, and I told Dan we’ll get a little five foot tree for just the special ornaments, and donate the rest.  And we’ll go to Christmas dinner at Pete’s and spend the day doing laid back stuff we enjoy.  (Hey, it’s a dream.  It’s not what I “Sense”.  Even though I have clue zero where they’ll come from (other than the adopted ones, who are already here) I suspect Christmas’ will only become busier with children and inlaws and grandchildren, ending up in what my grandmother had until she was eighty and didn’t have enough energy to deal with it, with about 40 people around three tables.  And that too will be okay. But the fact is we can’t guess, and each putting away of the seasonal stuff is “I believe there will be a next year.  And I’ll be here to deal with this.” Eventually it will fail, but 2016 and the thingy in the brainy and unexpected collapses nowithstanding, I’m hoping it’s not this year.

The thing with “the day after” — a holiday, a wedding, a special time for a family — is that you’ve moved from a space set apart to the normal world again.

I’ve watched my wiccan friends do rituals, and carve out “a sacred space” with words an ritual.  In a way annual things, rituals, prescribed actions, are ways to cut a space out of the normal world, to set us apart.  Humans are creatures like that.  We need the everyday and the mundane.  That’s where we live.  But we need the special, the set apart, the cut away, that which reminds us that not only of bread lives man (but of grandma’s Christmas doughnuts, which I made yesterday.  Eh.)  We need the special, because when the world gets slow and dreary like cold molasses — as it does for all of us at some point and for some time — we need to remember the special world, the special time, and allow it to give meaning to everything we do.

Which reminds me of the other thing I do.  Writing is, in a way, all in the special world.  And done right, it too, it also gives us something to get us through the dreary work-a-day world.  Oh, sure, the characters go through fire and blood, but in the end, it is a grand thing and full of meaning, and it pulls us through our world that is often not meaningful at all.

Which reminds me I have a book to finish.  And you too need to get to your every day pursuits.  But I’m grateful for you, and your visits here.  You too are all part of my special world.



154 thoughts on “The World Set Apart

  1. Ah, yes – back to work. I have an index for a client’s very detailed history of a certain skirmish in Civil War-era Texas to do. Hours of work, marking the various names and units, spread over 600+pages.
    Daughter unit and I hit Big Lots for some after-Christmas sales items, cruised the local HEB grocery for a few more, contemplated the marked-down frozen turkey breasts…

    We did not mention to each other the pall that has fallen over the day after Christmas, since 2010. That was the day that my father (the daughter-unit’s grandpop) died in hospital after a horrifyingly short and seemingly harmless bout of walking pneumonia. He had struck his head sometime during the month previous and set off a slow-bleeding hematoma … but it also turned out that he had an unsuspected heart defect …. the defect and the pneumonia combined to complicate the surgury. Christmas has been slightly depressing to me, ever since.

    1. I can relate. Replace day after Christmas w/Memorial Day weekend (brother’s birthday) and heart defect w/undiagnosed cerebral aneurysm.

      A simple heart attack followed by a successful cardiac catheterization should have had Dad walking out the doors a few days later, but a burst aneurysm put paid to those plans. Still not sure who was more shocked: family or medical staff.

    2. I have similar reactions most years; my father died on Christmas Eve, it wasn’t an easy death, and if I get the decorating-wrapping-cooking organized too well it just gives me more time to sit in the dark having flashbacks. But Christmas Day this year was a glorious recovery from the day before; the family has one three-year-old toddler to be shared by two grandparents, an adoring aunt and uncle, two parents and a couple of dogs. (The cats, I have to admit, boycotted the whole affair.) It was an extended and very pagan celebration of adult extravagance and toddler greed.

      The Adoration Of The Toddler is a kind of sacred space, isn’t it?

      1. Adoration Of The Toddler is the perfect way to celebrate Christmas!

        We clocked the stages of development of our Daughtorial Unit by her progress through “Hey, I remember doing this before!” to “I recognize those parental behaviours as signifying something special in a few days” to “Christmas is Coming!”

        Three is right at the golden point of the arc, when the excitement of the day’s arrival starts to build a few days before. Long enough to build up to real joy of the day but not so long that the excitement results in accidents.

        1. Yup. Three is good and as I recall, four is even more fun. I think next year his mother gets custody of the Advent hangings I made when she was about that age, old enough to start getting excited but not yet quite clear about numbers and calendars. Each day the kid gets to move a Velcro-backed ornament from a house window to a Christmas tree; when the tree is “trimmed” it’s time to start opening presents.

      2. Tis indeed. I miss having a little one about.

        Boxing Day having been yesterday Down Under I got to see a lot of little ones – the one that sticks out in memory is the one who was watching the hustle and bustle, yelling in baby delight – happy sounds, eyes brighter than the fairy lights she was squee-ing over. I noticed her apprehensive parents relaxed when most other shoppers who passed by grinned at their daughter’s exuberance – for me, it showed that kiddies don’t think the magic is over once the pressies are unwrapped (the wrapping is just as much fun to play with! Rip! Rip! Rip!)

    3. My wife died 8 days before Christmas, some years back. Remembering is an old war wound that flares up from time to time, with no reason, usually.

  2. The tree at Redquarters (artificial, because cats and space), stays up until January 6th, since Christmas lasts 12 days. We start later than most, too, because of Advent.

    I’ve noticed a similar feeling when I finish a book draft. I don’t want to emerge from book-space, and I find myself tweaking things, re-reading and polishing, just so I don’t say “I’m done. Time for the next project.” Even when frustrating, book-space is a special mental place, one with its own rituals and rhythms. And each time I finish a major project, I start to wonder, “What next? That idea’s done. There’s nothing left in that world. Have I written all my stories away?” Thus far something new has always appeared, but I still worry a little.

    1. It would be a cause of worry if one’s imagination ceased; which is, I rather imagine, a form of braindeath. I’m rather pleased the children we’ve had can find entertainment in reading, in make-believe. They got piles of books, some useful things, arts n’ crafts, and Lego. Eldest son amazed the grandparents and great-grandparents with how quickly, after the gift-unwrapping, he settled down to read, quietly, blazing through a quarter of the book in an afternoon. He finished it yesterday evening; before dinner. Eldest did much the same.

      We discussed perhaps introducing them to RPGs, and their Uncle showed them a digital Choose-Your-Own-Adventure; the son proceeded to die a few horrible deaths, daughter made it through, perhaps a bit more genre-savvy. Son delighted in the adventure anyway, saying he was glad it was a reading adventure.

      It strikes me as many children these days, it seems, find no pleasure in reading, in imagining. Or is that ‘as usual’? So I try to keep the imagination alive.

      1. We started sending our nieces and nephews in Colombia books for Christmas and for their birthdays, when they were very young (for the youngest, before they could read, so the books had to be read to them). Now they look forward to those books, telling us what sort of books they’re hoping for. I’m proud to say, the oldest is asking for books about computer programming, while one of the middle kids asked for a biography of Albert Einstein. One young girl’s father tells us that she reads at least 30 minutes a day before bed, no matter what else happened during the day. Get’em early, keep’em for life. 🙂

        1. It was a struggle to get the boyo to read; he liked being read to. Then one day, dragons became his Favorite Thing, and I pointed out the movie he so enjoyed were based off of books…

          My mother told me that she bought a child she knows a book of fairy tales, because the kid had told her she loves reading those. It doesn’t sound like much, but the kid is from one of the schools that my Mom volunteers at, which have a level of poverty that makes even the poorest US elementary school seem like a dream. The most books these children see is their teacher’s textbooks, and if they can afford it, their own.

              1. Be sure to ask about age levels and genres, too. I don’t know how much I’ll have that will be appropriate, but I’ll bet we (the collective we) can manage to get something going.

          1. I’ve never been much of a fan of Dolly Parton musically — I recognized the talent and skill but her songs weren’t particularly for me — but over the years I’ve gained a deep appreciation for her philanthropy. Dollywood seems horribly unhip (if better than the Gatlinburg Tourist Trap) but it creates jobs for locals, giving the unskilled kids a place to build from without clogging their lungs with dust and the traffic there is mostly avoidable. And I loved her reasoning for staying at Motel 6-type places while on tour “nobody expects a big star like her to be at a Motel 6, so she is merely “that lady who looks sorta like Dolly Parton”) and who can’t lover her response to a question about whether “Dumb Blonde” jokes offend her: ‘I’m not offended by all the dumb blonde jokes because I know I’m not dumb – and I’m not blonde either.’

            But what has really impressed me has been her largess in providing books to poor kids — as well as how she goes about it.

            An open apology to Dolly Parton
            Dear Dolly,

            I’ll be honest. I used to think you were a bimbo. I used to think you flaunted your big boobs, teased hair, tiny waist, and your syrupy-sweet southern accent to sell yourself and your brand as a country singer. Granted, I was raised in the Midwest and lived as an adult for many years in the Northeast. I didn’t get you, much less the South.

            For example, I’d heard about your origins as a poor girl from the hills of East Tennessee, and when I learned you’d created a theme park in your native Sevier County I rolled my eyes. “Really, a theme park?” I thought. “As if roller coasters will really help the people of rural Appalachia. Why not create something truly useful to give back to your community, like a library.”


            You have created a library, actually, and possibly in a bigger and more magical way than any brick structure filled with books could. And this is where my understanding of who you are really began to shift.

            When I moved to Knoxville eight years ago I received a welcome letter from “Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.” It informed me that Dolly’s vision was to foster a love of reading among preschool children by mailing a specially selected book each month directly to any child under the age of 5. You had expanded it from Sevier County to my county, and if I had a preschool age child, it said, all I needed to do was sign her up and she would begin receiving books each month.

            My daughter was not quite 2 then, and I can still see how her face lit up each time we pulled a book addressed to her out the mailbox every month. Several of them became her early childhood favorites, and are stored away should she have children of her own some day.

            As a writer and editor, I’m a book hound and made sure my daughter has been exposed to reading at every turn. But you know better than anyone that not all kids have that privilege. I can’t imagine what a magical gift receiving a book every month must be for kids whose parents can’t afford to buy them or who don’t have easy access to a library. I quickly came to see the genius of your Imagination Library literacy program, and how you were making a difference in so many ways I never realized.


            With the humble generosity and graciousness I’m learning is signature Dolly Parton, you’re not only planning a telethon to raise funds for the fire victims, but you’ve also created the My People Fund to provide, as you say, a “hand up to all those families who have lost everything in the fires.”

            Those struggling families — and there are hundreds of them — will receive, thanks to you, $1,000 a month for 6 months. Countless stories detail how these families escaped with literally minutes to spare, and with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. And with each story, there’s a strong undercurrent of hope about how strangers helped one another and how this region is “mountain strong.” Your generosity both reflects and inspires this region’s spirit and resiliency.


            Go ahead, read the whole thing. Dolly hasn’t forgotten her roots and she hasn’t forgotten that the poor need a hand up, not out … and especially they need somebody to budget for their luxuries at least as much as their necessities. Twelve times a year, small children get a dose of a gateway drug that will make their lives much richer than any other gift they could receive.

            1. That’s exactly right. Whether you care for Dolly’s music or not, she is one of the best people around. She cares deeply for the people of the region and makes her mission to help those in need in the best way she can.

            2. My mom and dad describe her as one of the last of the “old style” Country singers– got going by being picked up by another singer, worked hard, gives generously, and has a sense of humor.

          2. I forgot to ask, is this school in Oz or in the Philippines? One of the things my wife and I have found is that it’s usually easier to buy books from an in-country online bookstore and have them delivered than to ship large boxes of them internationally. We need to talk about this more, and to make it something sustainable. Hmmm….The Huns and Hoydens Children’s Literary Enrichment Fund…

              1. Not to annoy by asking too many questions, but are books in English desired, or in Tagalog? I’m sure we can find a bunch of used English books, but Tagalog will take a bit more effort (which I’m sure we’ll put in if needed).

                  1. Well, your mother’s guidance in the type of books that will work best will certainly be one of the primary directors of our efforts.

            1. There’s a charity called “Donors Choose” that helps schools, but it might be US-only. An Amazon wish list might also help.

              1. I was looking at Philippine online bookstores a little bit ago, wondering if they might be interested in something along these lines. If possible I’d like to see this become something sustainable, not just a one-time donation. Still thinking, nothing planned yet…

          3. I love how everybody here loves books and when they see people who need the thing they love, they want to find a way to give it to them *right now*.

            And I’m totally contributing when there’s details.

      2. the son proceeded to die a few horrible deaths

        That can be fun, as long as it’s not a character you’re attached to. I recommend the Paranoia RPG.

        Stay Alert!
        Trust No One!
        Keep Your Laser Handy!

    2. I also think the tree doesn’t come down until January 6.

      then I go and pull out the blessed chalk and a chair and go to put the annual Epiphany blessing on the front door.

    3. I find that having the “Christmas season” framed as “advent” in my head takes a lot of pressure off of Christmas Day, because then it’s just the first day of Christmas. It’s when it all STARTS– and especially since we homeschool, I can give the kids Christmas off to play with the toys, do the after Christmas sales, visit folks when they’re not hurrying to get ready….

  3. Well, in the Russian Orthodox church Christmas isn’t till January 7 on the new (Gregorian) calendar. So for us yesterday wasn’t the grand celebration it is for most of the rest of the country. Ruby worked a 12-hour shift at the hospital, I went to church and then came home and read a book. Even when January 7 rolls around, Orthodox Christmas isn’t the grandiose affair it is for the rest of Christendom (or maybe that’s just an older couple fairly apart from close family speaking). For us, Easter (Orthodox Pascha) has much more the feeling of excitement and anticipation that Christmas has for everyone else. But at any rate, I hope everyone had (and will have!) a Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, (insert appropriate other holiday), and a happy and prosperous New Year!

    1. Theologically, Easter is a much bigger deal– but Christmas is at a slower point in the year than planting time! And then there’s the “people need a boost” aspect to it, too; it’s a higher starting point when it’s either spring or nearly spring, vs “it’s cold, and snowy, and dark.”

  4. We are exhausted. Happy but exhausted. I hope all of you had a Merry Christmas Hanukkah, or what every holiday you celebrate, .

  5. Back when I used to work Spacelab missions we’d be assigned to one about three years out, learn the science, the crew, the principle investigators, steep ourselves in the mission parameters. Then the launch, holding your breath for two minutes and seventeen seconds, SRB separation, MECO, stable orbit. And then from ten to sixteen days of intense focus, squeezing every last second possible of on orbit operations. Running the poor crew ragged.
    As a data team lead I was required to remain on console until WOT (wheels on tarmac). Then we closed our flight logs, shut down our consoles, and left the control center for home. Every time I remember that intense sense of loss, life as I’d known it for years was over.
    So, you’d take a month of either vacation to burn all those comp time hours you’d accumulated, or light duty in the office, then be assigned to a new mission and start the whole process over again.
    Ghod I miss those days.

  6. Sacred space is in everything. When I run an RPG, we start out by sitting and talking casually, but then there comes the point where I say, “Okay, who wants to buy up their skills?” and then we’re in the sacred space of the game world. People revise their character sheets, and we retell what happened in the previous session, and that creates a boundary. And at the end, when I award experience points, that marks the exit point from the temple of gaming. After a quarter century with the same circle of players (though some have left and some new ones have joined), it’s all very ritualized.

  7. I’m surprised anyone of us ever emerges from the special place that is reading. For practical purposes, there is an infinity of books.

    It is interesting that they eventually pall – and some of us write the one we always wanted to read, and couldn’t find.

  8. Popping my head in:

    Heya! In Tucson with marginally reliable connectivity, thought I’d drop a note.

    Merry Christmas and Grand Holidays!

    I miss everybody, best wishes for the New Year!

        1. Always, whether we like it or not! *chuckle* Good to see you around again. Hope it was a good ride, those long bike trips around the U.S. are something I’d recommend to anyone. *grin*

    1. Sorry for the slow reply, was on a motorcycle trip in Arizona — didn’t pay much attention to my phone…

      *sheepish grin*

        1. Um… in my defense, Southern Arizona. And motorcycle trip. Little too cold and flaky (snow) up your way.

          *humbly begging forgiveness*

  9. A major advantage of possessing (being possessed by?) a mildly depressive nature is one doesn’t suffer much let-down after “special” days … largely because one doesn’t get especially “up” for the day in the first place. Christmas is a chore (or rather, a series of chores), so the special consists of checking off another string of things from the “to do” list. One finds such pleasures within that framework as one can, of course, but being “Merry & Bright” isn’t a place I have gone in a very very long time. Heck, I don’t even go “hyper” any more, for which I don’t doubt all who know me are cheerful.

    There are the pleasures of the day, of course, but with Beloved Spouse hacking and wheezing something fierce it is easy enough to dial the day’s expectation down to near zero.

    Besides, we still have six more nights of Chanukkah to burn, and Twelfth Night in the offing!

    1. Help! I identify with a wallaby (as opposed to identifying as a wallaby)

      For me, the day was much like any other for me especially because I decided against the drive to Memphis. So it was just me, and the cats, and a wall to repair in the upstairs bedroom. The ‘net was less active, TV was lacking, and I couldn’t just run out for stuff I needed.

  10. Some years we have a tree, some years we don’t. Sometimes it’s because I just don’t have time but there have been others when we just weren’t feeling it. My parents have a huge tree and little ones so the kids have there own to decorate hoow they want; my son had star wars and football stuff, my daughter ballerinas and princesses.

    Someone may have whined about going back to work today (okay, it was me) but it feels like my time here is winding down. Maybe it’s just the end of the year but I feel ready to move on after this holiday.

    1. … my son had star wars and football stuff, my daughter ballerinas and princesses.

      Tsk. Don’t you realize how much gender confusion this will avoid for them? Cruel, that’s what you is.

        1. This year I got the Wawl Castle dragon from Krakow. They were sold out of felt perogis and out of glass perogis as well. Who would have guessed that those are the two most popular Polish ornaments at the Polish heritage shop?

          1. My daughter bought a cheerleader for her brother so he could have her on his tree cheering on his football players and a garden fairy with a rose so I could have her on mine, too. Mine mostly has dragons and gold balls so she thought I needed something that went with dragons.

            I didn’t even know you could get perogis ornaments. Of course, I can never find the haggis one I want, either.

    1. From St. Patrick’s Gargoyle by Katherine Kurtz

      Quote from conversation between a human and an angel.

      “Ever heard of that old debate about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”


      “Well, I can’t imagine why any of us would want to do such a useless thing, but the answer is, As many of us as wanted to.”

      End Quote

      😀 😀 😀 😀

      1. True! His argument stems from Thomas Aquinas’s thesis that two angels can not occupy the same space. (For reasons of identity, not because they have bodies to exclude each other.) If he’s wrong, it would be infinite, because nothing exclude one angel from being where another one was.

          1. Pauli Exclusion principle?

            Is that where a movie can have Pauli Shore in it, or be funny, but not both?

  11. I am skipping the let-down with the time-honored cure for situational depression: hard work. The laundry pile was well on its way from molehill to mountain, the office floor needed mopping, the house needed swept, the dishes doing, the office fan balancing, along with a page-and-a-half to-do list.

    I’m too busy to feel the blues.. and when I do, I’m going to be exhausted enough to sleep through them.

  12. Christmas was rather low-key this year. Because of my mother’s worsening neurological issues, we didn’t even put up a tree or decorate. When we got back from church, we just handed out presents to each other and ate a good-sized dinner. The rest of the time was spent reassuring Mom that everything was OK, that she was at home, etc.

    That and setting up the computer my brother is handling down to me and transferring the data off the computer I’m returning to him. It’s nice to have a machine that can run the current system instead of just an old one. OTOH, the changes from the system I was using are going to take some getting used to.

    Now that we’re home, I really need to buckle down on writing and figuring out other money earning possibilities.

    1. My father broke his hip the week before Christmas and had replacement surgery. He spent Christmas in a hospital. Yet it was still an upbeat Christmas because he was doing well, walking a good distance up the hall and back. Pretty good for a guy in his nineties.

      Yet I’m holding my breath somewhat from fear of blood clots, for reasons I won’t go into. And I’m concerned about my mother. Time for more prayer.

  13. You might want to do the shopping for the “little” tree this year– with the after Christmas sales, while your memory for what ornaments are going to need space is fresh. (And the LED ones aren’t an arm and a leg.)

    The “little tree for only the special ones” idea is actually GOOD for a grand kid filled house, because you can put it on a table with the gifts…and block the littles off of it. My cousin shared a picture of her “tree,” which is hanging from one of those potted plant hooks in the ceiling. I think it’s a wreath with cloth and lights to form the tree…..

  14. This is how I feel after being away at a convention all weekend. I look around at all the normal people and think: “Reality. Who thought this was a good idea?”

  15. I used to get very upset to see the branch (there were no Christmas tree lots in the village, and dad refused to kill a tree for Christmas, so he’d shimmy up and cut a 3 to 4 foot branch.) which had been decorated and made so much of suddenly consigned to the compost tree. Since I anthropomorphized most things as far back as I can remember, I used to imagine its bewilderment at being suddenly trash. I have a vague idea I wrote a story about it, but maybe I just read one. It’s not an unusual piece.

    Hans Christian Anderson had a story about a Christmas Tree. The story ends with the tree being thrown on the trash heap to be burned.

    The first time I heard that story, I hated it. I continued to hate it the dozens of times that it was subsequently read to me in school and other places. And, needless to say, I still hate it.

    Of course, that seems to be par for the course for Mr. Anderson. Aside from The Ugly Duckling, I don’t think I’ve encountered a single one of his ‘fairy tales’ that I enjoyed.

    1. I’ve heard of a girl who forced her family to get an artificial tree after hearing that story.

      of course, during the years we had a real tree — allergies made us stop — they were picked up and shipped off to the shore to use in anti-erosion efforts.

      1. We used Eastern Red Cedar for Christmas trees. They grow wild in these parts, and finding a tree merely required a trip to the woods. Then it was stuck in a large lard can or trash can covered in old wrapping paper, filled with dirt and kept moist. We reused wrapping paper in those days until it was pretty far gone.To this day I’d still rather cut the tape than tear open the paper.

        One year it hit me that this was killing a living thing for a mere decoration to celebrate Christmas. That year I convinced my father to set it at the edge of the garden in an attempt to root it. It failed, of course. Two years after that we went to an artificial tree because low humidity does quite a number on Easter Red Cedar, and they not only shed needles like crazy, but turn brown and die. In other words, fire hazard.

        We used an artificial tree ever since. My wife and I continued that tradition. And somewhere down the line, Eastern Red Cedar for Christmas trees fell out of fashion. But the smell of the crushed needles brings back memories of Christmas.

        1. We always used Sierra Juniper when I was little– Juniperus occidentalis, yours is Juniperus virginiana– because cutting it down meant killing the tree. (Shrub, technically.)

          They’re pests or weeds that have to be cut down or they’ll literally drain a stream dry in the area we were in. (Have to be careful about cutting them or there can be flooding issues the next year as decades of crud gets washed down.) Dad or mom would identify one that looked like it was young enough to not stink (old ones get a sort of cat smell to them) and leave it when they were thinning the rest, and then we’d go get it at Christmas time.

          Never threw it out, too– set it out behind the fire wood shed, and next year it was great firewood, if rather small.

        2. We always had an artificial tree when I was growing up, because my father liked to have a fire in the fireplace, and just in the fireplace. Now I am married to someone with plant and dust allergies, so it was never a question. My current tree is a little five-footer from the 1980s—it looks very realistic, and is not one of those horribly pre-lit trees* that seem to be the only ones you can buy in the store.

          *I understand and appreciate the concept of a pre-lit tree. But if they’re LEDs, why do they a) have to be the same shape bulb as the incandescents, when you can literally go down to pinpoint size or up to crash glittery globes, b) have to be wired so that the cords are all over the place, no better than you could do it yourself, and c) make them so bad that they go dark half the time through bad wiring decisions?

          1. Oooh, we got the PERFECT tree OF THE FUTURE– it’s an LED tree, but it doesn’t have lights strung in it. It has fiber optic tubes. 😀 So it’s got changing rainbow lights inside…and you can still put more lights on the outside if you want. 😀

              1. Ours is sturdy enough to support a full-gown cat. When he was young, he liked to climb in it and shake, then look out to see what he knocked off. Now he tries very hard to be good, and only climbs it two or three times. For safety, I secure the tree with twine to a nail, just as I did when the kids were young, and have a couple of sand bags on the stand. Makes for a lumpy tree skirt, but the tree stays put.

                Some years ago I tried making a cat guard by making a disk out of chicken wire and inserting it above the bottom limbs. It was a bit shiny, so I went to town for garland to hide it. My wife met me at the door when I returned. It took the cat less than five minutes to figure out he could defeat it if he used the edge of the guard to give himself a boost. I took out the guard.

                This year I found a card with a cat clinging to a Christmas tree, with the words inside “It’s Christmas. Do you know where your cat is?” Gave that to the entire family.

            1. Ooh, that does look neat!

              …We got our first full-size one this year (to go with our first house, and baby’s first Christmas as she was born the morning after) and went with the pre-lit with cords kind. I like it anyway. But I could see going fiber-optic when it wears out.

    2. HCA: a one-man justification for “disnification” of “children’s stories.”

      I liked the Ugly Duckling, too, but even that Disney did better.

    3. Oh good. I knew I couldn’t have been the only person wanting to post about that.

      HCA seems to have been a chronic depressive, where the best of all possible endings is to die with your loved one (The Steadfast Tin Soldier) or to find your family after being rejected by literally everybody (The Ugly Duckling.)

      1. Yeah, I do not get the attraction to the man’s writing. Everything I’ve encountered by him has a depressing ending except for The Ugly Duckling, and that one looks like it will right up until the last few lines of the story.

        1. I read the real version before seeing the Disney movie — thankfully on video at home: I spent half the movie sobbing because I thought I knew what was coming.

          1. Alla youse guys griping about HCA musta not ever read any of the unexpurgated Brothers Grimm. Life was hard in those times and especially hard on those who thought the universe cared about them.

            1. I’m aware of how brutal the old fairy tales are. But at least those stories tended to end with right triumphing (sometimes only more or less). It’s the wicked stepmother that goes mad wearing the iron boots, not Snow White.

                1. Some of the fairytales are, too. The only ones I can remember hating were the ones where it stopped in the middle of the story…but it was right at the point that was fashionable for a Downer Ending at the time, as opposed to the ones where you have one, or two, or three Downer Endings and then some sort of Justice, if not an actual happy ending.

            2. Read them long before I tried HCA. The tone is totally different, as is the story-arc.

              They are dark by modern figures, but they’re not sadistic to the reader– lots of really bad stuff happens, but at the end it turns out OK, other than a tendency to have rather sadistic endings for the bad guys.

            3. Cover to cover. Also Asbjørnsen and Moe, Joseph Jacobs, a fair amount of Alexander Afanasyev, Italo Calvino’s Italian Folktales, and a lot more.

              HCA is un-fairy-tale-like in its depressingness.

  16. My loca parish priest is always astonished at people who jump to take the Christmas decorations down on the 26th. “But Christmas lasts for another two weeks!”, he’ll say. “Why would you want to celebrate LESS?”

    Not everyone’s Catholic. But sometimes I think people are in a big rush to get back to the “real” world and its distractions.

      1. Oh I have the same problem living at home with no guests to clean up for. One year I left up a nativity creche until it was nearly Lent again.

    1. We’re pretty good about taking things down on the 7th, barring weather. But at least we stop turning on the lights. (Right now we are away from home, but we have the ability to turn them on remotely through our phone. Truly, we are living In The Future.)

          1. *holds up a staple gun* We can fix that!

            (No, not through the wire… as best I can tell, it’s a family tradition based on everyone having enough respect for electricity that we get heebie jeebies about hanging them where they could get wet. Securing them under cover does that…..)

                  1. By the powers invested in me under the 1948 Brother’s Code of This Here Neck Of The Woods, I hereby declare Foxfier sane and reasonable.


              1. That’s what powder fired nailguns are for! (I’m told you should stay away from the corners, as some of them are powerful enough to blow the corner off)

                1. use the wrong charge and it will pass through concrete blocks and bounce around the basement. (Why yes, I saw that happen, someone bought the charges for fastening up to 1/8″ steel to cured solid concrete without benefit of holes in the steel . . . a trim board on cinder block? oops)

                  1. I think he’s related to the guy who roofed a coworker’s house. She looked up and saw a roofing nail poking out of the sheetrock in the ceiling. The space between roof and attic floor was 10′ at that point. She was impressed, and not in a good way.

                    1. Actually, it’s the type of nail rather than power driving it. The masonry nails we used were sort of stouter and had a fluting to the sides and were coated with special “cement” (we seldom used uncoated nails when framing – have seen plain nails pop right). Anyway, they held better than you’d think.

                    2. seeing the gaps in my own roof sheeting (old sawn 1 by varying from 24 to 4 inches wide) any air powered gun hit in just the right spot would give me a chance of that.
                      roofing felt and a shingle are not going to stop a nail driven by 125psi air if one finds a nice hole.
                      as an aside. the how one over from me is being roofed.
                      In Michigans U.P.
                      During December.
                      going on the third week

                  2. My old boss never cared for those. For tough nailing, we used a shop hammer and one made from a sledge hammer head mounted to part of a shovel handle. The latter was perfectly balanced for nailing.

                    1. This was an uncle and his best friend working on the friend’s basement. A second trip to the hardware store got them the right loads and all went well, trim piece was used so the hole was cut off.
                      I preferred to drill and some form of anchor for anything in concrete until they came out with tapcons, then it is just drill, unless it is something I’m going to be beating on.
                      They did the roof of a warehouse at work, and the drilled and drove anchors, but every anchor, when driven in, spalled chunks out the ceiling, so walking around under where they were working put one in danger of being hit in the head with up to golf ball sized spalls. Sharp edged ones.

    2. Our tradition was by New Year’s, but even the Twelve Days of Christmas was something of a mystery to us.

      Speaking of which, does anyone know if all Roman Catholic churches celebrated the Feast of Thomas Becket in the 14th Century, or if that was just an English thing?

      1. St. Thomas Becket was pretty popular in the rest of Europe, too. Mostly because there were a lot of churchmen getting guff from kings, and the popes put St. Tom on the universal saint calendar. But some places had other local saints that were more popular.

        And obviously the Maronites and other autonomous Rites were not using the same calendar. (Not really in touch with the popes, for one thing.)

        1. I’ve seen a St. Thomas a Becket altar at a church in Austria, and I think I remember seeing a church dedicated to him as well, in Bergenland, the far eastern edge of Austria. That was a major trade-route path as well as a frontier.

  17. Many (most?) U.S. Christmas celebrants leave their decorations up until a few days after the New Year (and sometimes much longer). The same is true for many shopping centers and live TV show studios. Doing so brightens the scene at New Year’s Eve/Day home gatherings.

    “Christmas” may be over, but “the holidays” are still here. This approach takes the edge off the drop back into “normal space” that you discuss here (and would also let you take it easier in the days immediately after you wrap up your book).

    1. Varies, even in the same community. My wife likes them down the day after Christmas; we left them up longer but put them out later. Some wait until New Year’s. In some places in the US there’s a tradition “Breaking up Christmas,” that sounds like a combination of the end of the burning of the Yule log and Plough Monday.

  18. I understand that mild depression is a common symptom of returning to normal space for those prone to jump-sickness.

    1. Wonder if the letdown contributed to literal fireworks between Christmas and New Year’s. They were illegal but a lot of people seemed to know a guy. Know of one instance when a deputy tried to stop some celebrators, they turned bottle rockets on him.

      Anyway, this year I saw something I think called a “Bubba Boom Box.” It’s a box of fireworks. And it has a caricature of a redneck with the famous words “Hey everybody, watch this.”

          1. Just learned about the bipolar. That disease does not have the most positive effects on life expectancy. Hollywood is probably not the healthiest place to have that illness in. I count it a minor victory in her struggle managing it that she lasted this long, and went to organ failure.

      1. I suspect that “stabilized” meant was on minimal life support until family could arrive/legal things get sorted out. If the report was correct that she’d been out for a while before CPR was started, O2 starvation may well have gotten her brain even though they were able to restart her heart.

  19. It’s a Denver tradition to leave the decorations up until after the Stock Show – so early February is not too far off.

  20. “We stand outside time, in a place not of Earth.
    As our ancestors before us bade, we join together and are One.”

    Ritual opening from Kurtz’s Deryni books.

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