washingtonpost.com
All Together Now: Shed Those Needles
Holiday Memories Are Evergreen but the Trees Too Quickly Fade Away

By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 10, 2008

Suddenly, there are Christmas trees lining 11th Street NW and the holidays are over. Yesterday afternoon there was just the one on this stretch in Columbia Heights, a Douglas fir in front of a brick rowhouse, upright in a metal tree stand, looking reproachful.

Now, 55 minutes before sunrise on a January morning, the dim sidewalk is lined with blue spruces, balsam firs, a Scotch pine or two, all lying on the ground in various states of undress.

The residents of the neighborhood might have taken their cues from the first house, looked outside at the Douglas wearing only its shoes and said, "Yep."

It might have been the weather, a sudden unseasonable warmth that made admiring the fire-cast glow of ornaments a silly -- bizarre, even -- pastime. The window for singing along to Burl Ives has passed; what was in that eggnog, anyway?

It could have been CVS nudging us along. Even the discounted marshmallow Santas have been replaced with gigantic plush Valentine things. And the placement of New Year's on the calendar and the holiday trash collection schedule, those likely have something to do with it, too.

Now where did we put the vacuum cleaner?

We wonder where cheery, unified Christmas spirit comes from; the flip side is wondering where it goes to and why, and how we all know it's time to throw out the trees.

Most of the ones on 11th Street still look fresh, with springy needles that burst green when you break them in half. Most of them are fully stripped, no angelic tree-toppers, and you want to throw a coat over them because the last time they were this naked they were young and didn't know any better.

Others are sappy anthropological excavations of their owners: An eastern red cedar still wears a single strand of tinsel. This tree came from a house that still uses tinsel. This tree came from a house that still saves tinsel, applying and removing it strand by strand.

Lying next to another tree: an ornament, a tiny ballerina, the kind that probably plays the "Nutcracker" Suite if you know where to wind her. Some Christmas future, a family will wonder where it went.

One after another, tree after tree. The suddenness, the en masse-ness of it all, make the ritual seem less weather-inspired and more primal, like everyone simultaneously tapped into the seasonal biorhythms that once told us to migrate north, wear the summer deerskins, "Bison are in season!" -- and knew it was time.

Don't bother saving the candy canes. No one eats them anyway.

Trundling through the neighborhood, a pea green Bowie's Trash truck, manned by Isaac Jackson and a helper. They will move from house to house, grab trees by the trunk, then heave them into the maw with other garbage left out this morning.

Three trees, then the trash is compacted.

"This is the busiest week of the year," says Jackson. "This, and tax season when everyone gets their refunds and buys new stuff."

He keeps a fake tree at home, himself.

The truck goes down the street. The sun is rising. It's going to be another warm one. By the time the people who live on this street wake up, the remnants of Christmas will be gone, disposed of in the night in one fell swoop, as if it never happened.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company