Greener BeeGreen HolidaysBeth Ashley’s Since You Asked: The holidays may be over, but the spirit stays …

By now the holidays are mostly a memory, though now and then I find a handful of tinsel in a corner of the living room and a tree ornament hiding on the mantel.

Rowland, in true engineering style, has found and labeled huge boxes to put away — “Tree Lights,” “Décor,” and “Christmas wrap and ribbons.” The tree is finally down, lying on its useless side near the driveway and waiting for the garbage guys to haul it away.

It makes me kind of sad.

For weeks, our house looked wonderfully festive. Every tabletop had its holiday gimcrack: a tray painted by one of our exchange students, Santa Claus in a rocking chair, a red-and-green stuffed cotton tree. They sat there till a few days ago; I couldn’t bear to put them away. There was a bright red cloth on the dining room table, and a holly-patterned runner, and at breakfast-time we continued to use a pile of red paper napkins. Things looked neater and more peaceful in the aftermath than they did while the holidays were going on.

One of Rowland’s many attributes is his determination to celebrate every day. For Halloween he staged an array of pumpkins and hay bales by our mailbox. For Christmas he found a Santa Claus flag.

In early December, my grandchildren from Berkeley, Oscar and Ella, helped us pick out a tree, and after we had hauled it home they patiently strung it with lights and dozens of ornaments — the same ones. we have hung for years. This is a lazy woman’s way of putting up a tree, but we have all come to enjoy it.

Once the tree is up we sit down for a lasagna dinner and get the kids to talk about school.

Years ago, I began to hang all the incoming Christmas cards on a string around the family room ceiling: we cross our fingers every year that we will get enough cards to fill all sides of the room. Rowland says the cards provide a sense of warmth and comfort, a reminder that we still have friends in the world.

Long after Christmas is over, however, the cards are still there. Hung near the ceiling they are too hard for me to reach. We have to wait for a visit from son Gilbert, who is 6-foot-7 and has a useful arm. He is spending the winter in Colorado, so the cards still wait for removal.

Our housekeeper came this week, and she helped haul the storage boxes down to the garage, and to launder and fold the red tablecloth.

She vacuumed the stray pine needles still stuck in the rug,

The house began to look neat again. The marble-topped table resumed its place where the tree had been, and Rowland topped it with the giant dictionary (and stand) he had bought me for Christmas.

Things begin to look orderly and warmly familiar.

All well and good. The time-consuming job of dismantling Christmas is just about over.

But gee, I miss the Christmas jumble.

At holiday-time, ordinary life is swept away, and we celebrate the joys of love and chaos. What can we look forward to now? Eleven months of sameness and self-discipline.

Most of the time, I prefer things to be orderly and neat. But Christmas time is an exception.

I love the disorder, the suggestion that real life is bigger than the day-to-day quiet of Rowland’s life and mine.

Those piles of presents, the stack of wrapping paper, the kitchen counters full of newly cooked yummies, the sound of carols wafting from the TV — it’s all part of a wide-open sentiment that says, come on in — our arms are open, we love you all.

Christmas is over, but we’re trying to keep the spirit alive.

Beth Ashley’s column, Since You Asked, appears every other Tuesday.

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