The End of the
The latest date for the end of the world has come and gone. We’re still here. No doubt someone will soon suggest another.
The winter solstice has come and gone. The days are getting longer, which I appreciate; but its imperceptible at this point and little has changed.
The Nativity is behind us once again. The world doesn’t look much different than it did.
For as long as I can remember, the Christmas tree has stayed up in our house until January 1st. When I was a kid, Dad used to say that he wanted to keep the feeling of Christmas alive as long as possible. I think he may have just been avoiding the inevitable. Since we always had a real tree, cut from our own woods on the farm, by New Year’s it was a pretty dry piece of timber. This meant a very messy trail of pine needles from the living room through the kitchen and out the front door when he finally gave in and hauled it out. The sound of the vacuum cleaner as Mom trailed along behind him grumbling is as much a part of my holiday memories as the hot chocolate and roasted marshmallows we made when we burned the tree in the fire pit out by the garden.
When I was raising my own families, we alternated between artificial trees and the real thing. By the way, I don’t recommend burning an artificial tree. It just doesn’t have the same effect. Although we didn’t have a woodlot of our own, we had family who did. Some of the most vivid images in my mind are of treks into the bush to find just the right tree … preferably before one of the kids either froze or needed a bathroom break.
I live in an apartment now. Real trees aren’t an option. Fire code you know. And even if that weren’t the case, I just don’t see it being the same to have the superintendent trailing along behind me with her industrial vacuum, grumbling about cleaning up behind inconsiderate tenants.
So the little tree I do have will be disassembled and go back into its box.
But not until January 1st.
If you’re like me, you have an assortment of decorations that you’ve collected over the years, each with their own story. There are the fragile glass ones that my grandmother passed down to my mother who passed them down to me. Then there’s the plaster hand that Brian made in nursery school, still intact after 25 years. There’s the “baby’s first Christmas” that we got the year Jeremy was born. And there’s a brown paper bag Santa puppet that Meaghan made. Brian and Jeremy live too far away to be able to help decorate now, and Mom’s not able. So Meaghan gets to do the honours. We reminisce and tell the stories as each piece is unwrapped and untangled and hung carefully on a branch. It’s a celebration of family.
I started this article with the thought that it would be about, as the title suggests, endings.
If not the end of the world, then the end of the year. If not the end of the year, then the end of the season. If not the end of the season, then the end of an era, as I’m sure that the time will come when I decorate that tree on my own.
But as often happens when I write, the words are taking me in a different direction.
I’m realizing how wise my dad was in his insistence on his New Year’s Day ritual. Because the burning of the tree was filled with laughter and whoops of surprise as the sap of the tree caught fire and the flames jumped and crackled. Most importantly, it was accompanied by talk about our plans for the year to come.
Many of those plans were no more substantial than the shadows cast by the flames on the snow. But they were happy plans, extravagant plans, glorious plans of how we’d change the world by spring time.
But change doesn’t often burst onto the horizon like a sunrise etched in a stone calendar, even one chiseled out by Mayans. Change doesn’t happen on a timetable. Like the almost imperceptible change that creeps up on the world as the days get longer, changing our society takes time.
Like the birth and maturing of a child, it comes slowly, gradually, often painfully.
The special Birth that we, as Christians, celebrate each year is once again behind us. But our opportunities to change the world are still ahead of us.
Let’s take the time to savour the warmth of the fire, drink a little hot chocolate, and roast some marshmallows. Let’s make some plans; wondrous, extravagant, glorious plans.
And then let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work making sure that at least some of them are more substantial than shadows. Let’s try to change the world.
Maybe even by spring.