It's always a little sad, at least for my children, the day we put the Christmas tree away. We always try to wait until the very last minute, the night before they go back to school after new years, but that doesn't make it any easier.
We always start with "the boxes". Over the years, each child has amassed a rather large collection of ornament that are their own (as opposed to "family ornaments"). Some are gifts from grandmas or mom and dad, others are the remainders of construction paper and glue sculptures from grade school, but all are priceless. Each child keeps their collection in their own box. When we decorate the tree, we encourage them to pick a selected few from their box, but without fail the box is empty when the tree is done. When we un-decorate the tree, we ask them to find their ornaments and place them neatly back in their box.
When this is done, usually after several arguments of "that's mine, no that's mine, that one's yours", we move to the breakable ornaments. During our second Christmas as a married couple, when our first child was just old enough to start crawling, she pulled the tree down on herself and broke almost every ornament. We decided then and there that we weren't going to have any more glass balls on the tree. As a result, twenty-two years and 7 more children later, we now have seventy-four glass balls that grace our tree every year. in the process of removing them from the tree, twenty-seven of them get broken, but the by next year they have had time to breed and have replenished their population.
Then follows the "other" breakables. This is a collection of various spun glass, ceramic, and other fragile materials that have been formed into stars, hearts, shepherds, wisemen, and other Christmas icons. Unlike the glass balls that come in neat cartons like eggs, these aren't at neatly put away. Yards of tissue, piles of cotton-like padding, and about half a ton packing peanuts are all involved in preserving them in storage year and year.
Finally, there's a few odds and ends. Some jingle bells that have been put on string, stuffed teddy bears, plastic Santas, and of course the obligatory Nebraska Cornhusker football helmet.
Then the garland. This year's garland of choice was a gold ribbon, very pretty, but a real pain in the butt to take down. It got tangled in the lights, caught in the limbs, and it tore right at the end. But, like everything else, it had to be put away.
The final family act in putting the tree away is taking down the angel on top. (The lights need to be removed and the tree is artificial, so it needs to be taken apart, but those are "adult" projects.) We're on our third so far. For some reason we like the lighted ones, they plug into the end of the stings of lights and bring a bright spot to the top of the tree. The previous one was beautiful, porcelain face, flowing gown, lace wings. She died in a bizarre short circuit accident that involved a loud bang, a blinding flash of light, and smoke, a lot of smoke. The new one is less "heavenly" and more "wintery". She kind of looks like a young Mrs. Claus who went to Weight Watchers. She's also got this cheap fiber optic effect that I don't care for, but the kids like it. Like everything else she has to come down and go back in the box.
As I pull her down and hand her to the kids, they always say "Well, I guess Christmas is finally over."
And I, for one, am happy to put it away.