Taking the tree down is a matter of post-holiday timing

SATURDAY'S HERO

January 08, 1994|By ROB KASPER

While I like to think of myself as a decisive kind of guy, I waffle on one of the country's most pressing domestic issues. Namely, when to take the holiday decorations down.

Like many American families, ours argues over when to toss the Christmas tree. The sentimentalists in the clan want to keep the tree up until about July 4. Meanwhile, the forces of domestic order seem to start planning the tree's removal a few hours after the presents are snatched from underneath the tree limbs.

I have worked both sides of the tree issue. Last year I aided and abetted in removing a tree on Christmas Day. It felt awful. Especially when, as happens when you live in a rowhouse, the only way to get the tree to the back alley was to lug the deposed fir down the front sidewalk and around the corner, in full view of shocked passers-by.

There were practical reasons for evicting the tree on Christmas Day. We were going away for a week and thought a dried- out tree would be a fire hazard. So a few hours before leaving town, my wife and I took down the tree.

Trashing the tree on Dec. 25 was such a dispiriting experience this year I jumped philosophical camps, and argued to keep the tree up until Jan. 6.

That is when, according to Christian tradition, the Magi, or Three Kings, arrive. Over time, decorating tradition has become that the shrubbery should stay up until after this twelfth night.

It is hard to keep a tree looking perky for 12 days after Christmas. But I bet when this practice got started, people didn't bring the tree into their house until Christmas Eve. Now most households have the tree planted in the living room a weekend or two before Christmas.

And the old cue of when to take down the tree, the celebrated arrival of the three kings, has been replaced by the scheduled arrival of the Christmas tree trash truck. When the trucks collecting the fallen firs start rumbling down your alleys and streets, as they are this week, you want to have your donation ready.

In recent years, some folks haven't been content with saying goodbye to the Christmas tree at the curb. Instead they have escorted their trees to a pulverization center, like the two operating this weekend at Memorial Stadium and Camden Yards. Here the tree is fed into a screaming machine that quickly reduces the tree to a pile of mulch. The tree-toters who take a bag are given memorial mulch. Counties surrounding Baltimore have similar mulching programs, and some give saplings to tree-toters.

This year I learned in Baltimore, trees picked up by sanitation crews meet the same fate as trees carried to pulverization centers. They all end up as wood chips.

Perhaps the most important major factor in determining when to take holiday decorations down is the availability of willing workers. It is easy to recruit decorators, but getting de-decorators is a struggle. For example, my sons and I argued to keep our tree up until Jan. 6. But we were outvoted by my wife, who was the only family member who could be counted on to remove any decorations. She wanted to take the tree down before all the needles fell on the floor, and before the household resumed its back-to-school schedule.

So last Sunday, I hauled our tree to the alley. I had help: Our 13-year-old son and one of his buddies tugged the tree along. A sentimentalist to the end, the 13-year-old complained that it was too early to take down the tree. He liked smelling the pine needles, he said.

I told the kid, if he liked smelling pine needles, he could vacuum the station wagon. We carried the tree home in that car, and the last time I looked, there were about 3,000 needles embedded in the carpeting.

Once the tree was disposed of, I began thinking of next year's decorations. Maybe I'll put lights on the outside of the house. Judging by local custom, you never have to take those down.

The party's over

How do you decide when to take down your holiday decorations? To answer, call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800; 268-7736 in Anne Arundel County; 836-5028 in Harford County; 848-0338 in Carroll County. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in 6145 after the greeting.

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