Christmas comes once a year - and stays

The Baltimore Sun

It was a week after the 12th Day of Christmas yesterday, and Tige and Julie Young of Howard County finally began plucking ornaments off the first of their three Christmas trees and dismantling decorations that had taken a couple of weeks to put up.

"I can almost fully guarantee - not only will it not be done today, it probably won't be done this weekend," said Julie Young, 39, a researcher who lives in North Laurel. "We just hadn't gotten around to take down the trees because we're really busy, and we don't really know what we're going to do with all the toys."

The Youngs are far from alone in lingering over Christmas. Plenty of others around the region were packing decorations yesterday, and some vowed to put it off even longer.

In Hampden yesterday, Travis Shupe and his roommates still had light swags illuminating their porch that they plan to keep year-round.

"Last year, ours stayed up for two months after Christmas by the time the last of it came down, just because we were busy," he said of the yard display they dismantled last weekend. "The people on this street love the lights. It's a nice ambience."

Around the corner, Michael Berlin, a criminal justice professor at Baltimore City Community College who celebrates both Christmas and Hanukkah, said his live tree would come down by today.

"It's getting old," he said. "It's getting dry. We don't want a fire hazard."

Nearby, Ed Johnson had loaded up a pickup truck with empty boxes, ready to fill them with Christmas decorations and transport them to a nearby garage he rents to store them. By noon, he figured it would take another three or four loads, in addition to the five he'd already made to complete the job.

"It's our way of giving back to the community," said Johnson, who lives on 34th Street, where extravagant light displays are a Baltimore tradition, for the holidays. "It's worth it just seeing people's faces."

His wife, Hope, meanwhile, was tackling their tree, decorated in Victorian style with old-fashioned shoes and dolls, tassels and beads and 1,650 lights.

Although New Year's Day has long been a traditional time to pack things away, Jan. 6, also known as Epiphany or the Day of Three Kings, is gaining popularity.

The Johnsons typically wait until that day or after to take down their decorations - a tradition that his parents passed on to him, he said.

Experts who study popular culture note a number of reasons for people holding onto the holidays.

Jim Von Schilling, an English professor at Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, Pa., who serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Popular Culture, said one reason many people are leaving their trees up longer is that "they're re-creating their childhood."

"The Christmas period was a big chunk of time. Since time goes by faster as you get older, it hasn't been there as long as it felt like when we were kids. So we hold onto things a little bit longer," Von Schilling said.

Because so many trees are artificial these days, it's easy to extend the time they stay up, he said.

Lynn Bartholome, associate professor of English and philosophy at Monroe Community College in Rochester, N.Y., and chairwoman of the Popular Culture Association and the American Culture Association, said many people just love the holidays and don't want them to end.

"My feeling is it has to be the uncertainty in the world and the comfort that the holidays bring," Bartholome said. "People just don't want it to be over."

To T.V. Reed, a professor at Washington State University who deals with popular culture topics, the extended Christmas reflects the hectic modern pace.

"The phenomenon is most likely a side-effect of the general speed-up of American life - too many commitments, too much work time, too little time for important family rituals," said Reed, who admits his own tree is still up.

To electrical engineer Tige Young: "The ideal tree for me would be one that operated like an umbrella."

Carefully, he reached for his favorite ornament first, a catfish, with the head of a cat and the tail of a fish, then a glass ball from his alma mater, Virginia Tech.

This was the Youngs' first Christmas with their daughter, Alyssa, who will be 1 year old this month.

That coming birthday is part of what prompted the couple to get Christmas packed away - to make room for all the new toys likely to arrive for the baby who is the first grandchild on either side of the family.

At the Youngs' house, one tree was live and the other two were artificial.

"It's a little bit sad," Julie Young said, watching their live balsam fir grow increasingly bare. "But it's almost a relief to get the house back to normal and get ready for the birthday."

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