Tradition dictates a set date for the taking-down of the Christmas decorations. Those of you who actually know it probably feel just a little bit smug when the time comes and the rest of us are caught napping. “Still got your tree up then? It’s bad luck, you know!” you say, with a shake of your head implying exasperation at having to deal with dim-wits. But we deserve your admiration, not your pity for, despite the annual recurrence of the event, we will never be able to remember the date and have therefore developed coping methods. My own relies more on instinct than calendars. I sense the point in time, when the ennui that descends after December 27th has been banished by the last fling of New Year’s Eve, the reluctant drift back to work has begun and decorations no longer feel appropriate to the prevailing mood. But, just to be sure, I check that the inflatable Santa has been removed from the Town Hall square before I start.
Decorations are soon stripped and put away (once the date has been ascertained) but disposing of the cards is not so straightforward. They must first be sorted according to various criteria: those from people I meet frequently are binned after a final, respectful appraisal; those from people I would like to meet more frequently are put to one side as reminders to act; those from people I am content never to meet again are binned heartlessly and those from people whose identity is a mystery are allowed a final examination before I bin them as well. There is also a sub-group of cards which are too beautiful to throw away and these may be put aside to be enjoyed as works of art – and then turn up, months later, under an accumulated pile of assorted papers and stuff.
But it’s not all straightforward: some of the cards contain inserts such as news-letters or change-of-address notices (alas, no cheques), all of which must be dealt with. This year a note fell out of an otherwise unremarkable card from a first-time correspondent – someone whose identity was not easily recalled. But it was no ordinary note: it comprised a narrow strip of thick paper, unfolding to about 12 inches long, on which were printed two lines of bold, black type:
“I wanted to let you know that in October 2011, after nearly forty years of marriage, Tom left me.
Inevitably it turned out that I had been replaced.”
These words were fraught with betrayal, heartbreak and consequent bitterness but, given that this was the first ever postal communication from a somewhat obscure family acquaintance whom I had met only once, my reaction to the news was more curious than empathetic. Why had she not sent this in December 2011? Was she perhaps expecting him to come back home for Christmas? Moreover, it did not fall easily into my system of disposal - in fact it remains on my desk defying all attempts at classification, challenging me to take some meaningful course of action. The best I can currently offer is a little advice based on Freud’s theory of repression: shove all your unwanted memories into the subconscious. Accumulated scientific data consistently adds authority to his idea and suggests that the ability to repress thoughts and to ‘move on’ is quite useful as a way to avoid depression.
Incidentally, the same research data support the theory that people with the ability to remember a lot of facts and figures (know-it-alls) are actually at a disadvantage when it comes to making clever decisions. It seems that their brains become so clogged with details that they are likely to miss the overall point of an argument or thesis. They just can’t see the wood for the (Christmas) trees.