Away with the manger

Thursday 21 January 2016 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — feast of St. Agnes

Every year people complain that the holiday season begins too early. In 2015, even the pope unveiled the Vatican Christmas decorations on December 8 — earlier than usual. 

How is it that nobody notices the Christmas season ends too early as well? 

You know me, dear readers. I’m a traditionalist. Tradition dictates that the Christmas season is still being celebrated. 

Liturgically, the Christmas season ends with the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord but when does the Christmas season end traditionally? 

Let me answer with another question, as is the way of the Irish. When does the pope take down his Nativity scene and Christmas tree? That would be February 2. His Holiness makes one last visit to pray before the Vatican’s crèche on February 1. 

It’s very affirming to me personally, dear readers, to know that the pope is as traditional as I am — at least when it comes to taking down the Christmas decorations.

One must put Christmas to bed just before Candlemas (as we traditionalists still call it). Candlemas is the final flicker of the Christmas season. On that day we get rid of the old candles and bless the new ones for the Liturgical year ahead.

Following ancient etiquette, I set up a Christmas tree and manger in the rectory parlor during the Third Week of Advent. As pastor, the task falls to me by default. 

This year, the rectory Christmas tree was a fragrant balsam fir. I asked for the least “shaped” tree on the lot. It was perfectly scraggly — just what I wanted — and inexpensive.

First one must string the lights. Forget those ubiquitous tiny white lights, considered the epitome of good taste back in the 1970s. Enough is enough. I want color. I succumbed to modern technology by using newfangled multicolored LED lights on the tree. 

In the old days, you couldn’t connect more than three stings of lights or you would blow the fuses. The safety instructions that came with the LED lights warned not to exceed 90 sets.

These LED lights are very bright, and they’re shaped not so much like the lights on my parents’ tree. They are thinner, like the ones on my grandparents’ tree. The more traditional, the better, I always say. 

Then I hung various ornaments that have accrued over the years, each accompanied by its own memory. Father Wallace added three ornaments of his own. After 94 Christmases, he has many memories. 

I’ve been crawling around adding fresh water to the metal stand every day for weeks. The greyhounds thought I had lost something (maybe my mind). Still, the tree is beginning to dry out. I’m going to have to take down the tree before February 2. Unfortunately, this year tradition will be trumped by practicality.

I wonder where I should begin. I answer myself that it really doesn’t matter. Just begin. OK then. Let’s do it.

First, I packed away the striped glass ornaments. Those have been on my family tree since the 1950s.

Oh, look. There’s the red cardboard egg festooned with tattered tinsel. That comes from my mother’s first tree as an infant. My grandparents, being very poor, recycled it from Easter one year. There had also been a cardboard angel from that tree, the kind Victorians called “scrap.” Unfortunately, that was lost decades ago.

Then there’s the intricate gold-plated sailing ship my father gave me. I have no idea where he got it. Nor do I have an idea why he gave it to me. 

There’s the Japanese geisha ornament given me by a friend some years ago.

There are quite a few German glass ornaments that need to be taken down with great care. My mother and I found them in Fairhaven, on Huttleston Avenue, at a going-out-of-business sale.

There it is — the little toy plane that was on my uncle’s last Christmas tree. He died back in the 1940s. He was only 15 years of age. 

There are those handmade beaded ornaments given me years ago by two elderly sisters, both parishioners at the time. The sisters are long gone.

Here’s the gilded aspen leaf my sister sent me one year from her home in the Rocky Mountains.

There are a few very delicate glass ornaments from the 1930s — some shaped like pine cones. I found them at a flea market in South Yarmouth.

Ahhh, the glass Santa ornaments. These images, commissioned by the U.S. Postal Service, first appeared on postage stamps. I bought them at Building #19. 

Next, I pack away the little acolyte ornament. That was first hung on the family tree the year I signed up as an altar server at midnight Mass. 

 OK. I’ve had it. I quit. Too many memories are being stirred up. I need to process them. “Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left of you,” sang Simon and Garfunkel

I think I’ll take a nice hot cup of tea and sit by the fire to ponder. My tree will stay up until February 1 after all. 

Anchor columnist Father Tim Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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