By Andy Rooney

If Santa Claus wants to do something useful now, during his time off, he could take down Christmas trees.

I don't know of any work I hate more than dismantling the Christmas tree. There's no job for which I'm suited less than untangling the lights from the ornaments and the ornaments from the branches, but I know my reluctance to untrim the tree is part sloth and part sentiment. It seems so sad that Christmas is over.

When the tree comes down, it's a reminder of passing time and of a wonderful Christmas we'll never see again. Justin will never be 6 again. Ben and Alexis will never be 3 again.

Taking down the Christmas tree is a thankless job. No one says how good the tree looks after you've taken all the lights and ornaments off of it and dragged it out into the yard by the driveway.

Taking down the outdoor lights and decorations is even harder because it's usually cold and the job involves a ladder.

We had a blue spruce in front of our house for years, but it got so big we didn't have a ladder tall enough or pocketbook full enough to cover it with lights. Our outdoor decorations have been makeshift ever since we stopped decorating that tree. I'm never satisfied with what we do, but I wouldn't think of not having any.

The outdoor Christmas lights that decorate the neighborhood are evidence of an outgoing friendliness we feel at Christmas. Outdoor lights shout, "Merry Christmas" at every passer-by. Wednesday morning, I took our outside lights down. Later that afternoon, just after dark, I had to do an errand and I noticed a lot of people still had their Christmas lights up. Now I think I may have done ours too early. In the little village of Lake Placid, N.Y., the custom is to leave Christmas decorations up until the snow melts.

There's always an argument in our house about when the tree should come out of the living room. The forces in favor of taking it down soon after Christmas cite the mess it makes as it begins to dry and drop its needles. Its potential as a fire hazard is always mentioned. Some people fight dirty in our house.

Sentiment aside, taking down the tree in the living room and removing the outside lights isn't an easy job. We move a desk out of the living room into a temporary place in the hall to make room for the tree, and once the tree goes out, the four-drawer desk has to go back in.

I can handle the hauling and lifting. It's the packing I'm weak on. On Christmas Eve, when I go to the cellar to get the boxes containing the lights and the ornaments, I'm irritated if they aren't neatly packed away with layers of paper between the ornaments and with the strings of lights untangled and separated so they can be wrapped easily around the tree. On the other hand, I have no patience for packing anything away neatly at dismantling time.

Throwing away the Christmas tree is no easy job, either. If you don't take it to the dump yourself, the tree lies on the ground out back like a corpse. Bits of tinsel cling to it and it can stay there for weeks.

Before we realized we shouldn't foul up the atmosphere by dumping smoke into it with burning trash, I used to enjoy hacking off the branches of the Christmas tree and starting a fire with them. I watched as each new branch thrown on the fire exploded into a crackling flame.

Now the tree just sits there and I look wistfully in the local newspaper, hoping for some notice that the trash collectors will pick up dead Christmas trees on our street tomorrow. Trash collectors are picky about what they take these days. You can't leave any old junk out any old day.

Trash collectors aren't as sentimental about old Christmas trees as I am.

(This classic Andy Rooney column was originally published Jan. 8, 1986.)

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