[encore] 576: Taking Down the Tree

[encore] 576: Taking Down the Tree

[encore] 576: Taking Down the Tree

This episode was originally released on December 8, 2021.


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

Ever since I was a kid, I have loved putting up the Christmas tree. My father and stepmother would make a whole day of it. And then, because I was raised in two households, I got to do it again! Two trees, two Christmases. Even then, I knew that was a kind of luck and not a hardship.

And now, I am the first to want to put up the tree in my family (which is me, my husband, the cat, and the dog). I can’t help it. I love a Christmas tree. I love getting it, hauling out the box of decorations that have traveled with me through the years. I have a small set of tiny nutcrackers I bought at a Christmas fair in Frankfurt, Germany when I was 17. They are still in their original cardboard box, with their original serious faces.

I have a few ornaments from when I was a kid, and some I’ve gathered throughout our ten years in Kentucky. A few ornaments with pugs on them, because Lily Bean, our pug, is clearly as important as an angel on the top of the tree. Because of the way our schedules work, I usually do most of this on my own now. Lucas comes upstairs from work and I say, “Ta-Da!” And the tree is done. Our cat who is over twenty years old always sits directly under the tree as if I’ve done the whole thing for her.

But, the funny thing is, I like taking down the Christmas tree just as much. I think it’s the idea of returning all the wonders into the neat boxes labeled Christmas and shoving them onto the basement shelves, tucking them away for some future time. I pat my little chorus line of nutcrackers on the head and say, “see you next year, meine lieben.”

And then the lights come down, the sweet sweet lights that illuminate the center window, and we settle into the true dark of winter. We push the restart button and the world remakes itself. A new year. A new fresh beginning. I put everything away, sweep up the needles and say “Ta-da” again because here we go, full speed ahead, into the unknown of the new year.

Today’s poem by the great Jane Kenyon honors the moment we take down the tree, the moment when the world returns to us in all its good and honest darkness.

Taking Down the Tree
by Jane Kenyon

"Give me some light!" cries Hamlet's
uncle midway through the murder
of Gonzago. "Light! Light!" cry scattering
courtesans. Here, as in Denmark,
it's dark at four, and even the moon
shines with only half a heart.

The ornaments go down into the box:
the silver spaniel, My Darling
on its collar, from Mother's childhood
in Illinois; the balsa jumping jack
my brother and I fought over,
pulling limb from limb. Mother
drew it together again with thread
while I watched, feeling depraved
at the age of ten.

With something more than caution
I handle them, and the lights, with their
tin star-shaped reflectors, brought along
from house to house, their pasteboard
toy suitcases increasingly flimsy.
Tick, tick, the desiccated needles drop.

By suppertime all that remains is the scent
of balsam fir. If it's darkness
we're having, let it be extravagant.

"Taking Down the Tree" by Jane Kenyon, from OTHERWISE: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS by Jane Kenyon, copyright © 1996. Used by permission of Graywolf Press.