Leaving a Christmas tree up too long can give you shingles.
Or so my wife says.
Though she wasn’t joking at the time, almost three years ago, when we shoved through the front door of our apartment The World’s Driest And Most Brittle scotch pine, stripped of its ornaments and its dignity, and proceeded to saw it into sections that we flung, with considerable disgust, into a dumpster.
Melissa broke out in a small rash days later. I told her it was poison ivy. Has to be, I said. And I was wrong. And a doctor told her it was shingles, and that stress might have triggered the outbreak.
Did I mention keeping the tree into March was my idea?
I’d resisted taking it down, not wanting to waste a precious weekend day on the project. It still looked good (as long as you didn’t turn on the living room lights). It didn’t stink.
I had more excuses and I used them, each and every weekend for a couple months as spring approached and the withered thing stopped drinking water.
There is, of course, debate about when the tree should come down.
This year, a friend shared a picture of her artificial tree — which she’d wrapped in plastic, ornaments and all — on Dec. 26 as she prepped it for storage. A survey of co-workers, conducted a few days ago over lunch, yielded New Year’s Day as The Right Time. Redbook, The Sun and other outlets have said it’s Jan. 5 — the Twelfth Night of Christmas — or the following day.
I even found an article in the Duluth News Tribune quoting a reader who said she’d once left her tree up till Valentine’s Day — soon thereafter it was “torched outside … in a snowbank.”
I could find no one advocating for March.
I could find no one advocating for me on that March day, when that Missouri scotch pine stabbed and pricked and cut me and Melissa as we exorcised it from our apartment.
On only one other occasion have I seen her as mad. It involved a can-opener, the fancy kind that leaves clean, dull edges and allows you to reseal the container. She was trying to open soup cans for a casserole, and it wasn’t working. It was a Christmas present. From me.
There was considerable cursing of the can-opener, as there was of the tree.
As she guided a jigsaw through its trunk, she suggested (threatened) that we forgo a tree next year, or put up an artificial one. I watched the procedure and cracked poorly timed, ill-received jokes. I knew she wouldn’t stay angry, much as I knew we’d have a real tree the next year.
And we did.
But not a scotch pine.
Never again a scotch pine, a tree with no discernible fragrance.
A pretty tree with sturdy branches capped with green daggers, one best enjoyed from a distance.
A tree I found to be prevalent in Missouri, where we lived at the time. Where we endured our first Midwest winter. And where we spent our first ever Christmas alone, away from our families.
That was tough.
And that was fun.
We cooked my mother’s vegetable soup, the kind made with bacon grease and chunks of beef, the kind that simmers all morning in a pot with a ham bone.
We opened our presents and watched our dog destroy his.
We watched movies and napped on the air mattress we’d set up, in front of the tree.
That scotch pine might be my least favorite tree, ever. But that Christmas ranks as one of the best.
The next year we bought a fraser fir from a grocery store.
It smelled like a Christmas tree should, and it didn’t stab you when you leaned in for a whiff.
It did, however, begin to stink, after we left it without water for more than a week when we traveled home to North Carolina for the holidays.
When we came home to our apartment and were greeted with the sickly sweet smell, I knew the end was near.
My fear was further confirmed when, two days later, the tree hadn’t drank any water.
A filmy, stagnant pond filled the stand, and turning on the living room lights revealed dull, frowning branches.
It was time.
I woke up early on a Sunday and tiptoed downstairs, where I took off the ornaments and lights and then, all by myself, hauled it to the dumpster.
My wife likes to say that “acts of service” is her “love language” — I reckon I scored some points that January day.
The next year we bought another fraser fir from another grocery store.
It came down shortly after our Clemson Tigers lost the national championship game to Alabama, after the echoes of the curses I’d hurled at Nick Saban for that cutesy little onside kick had faded.
Again, it was time.
This year, the tree still stands, and likely will well into January.
I don’t know when it will come down — I don't know what will stir me to action.
It won’t, hopefully, be a relapse of shingles.
It will be before March.
We’ll see if it makes it to Valentine’s Day.
How to dispose of your Christmas Tree in Beaufort County
▪ All Christmas trees may be disposed of at any County Convenience Center. All convenience centers in the county close at 1 p.m. Saturday and are closed New Year’s Day. Regular schedules will resume Jan. 2.
▪ Remove all ornaments and lights from the tree before disposal. All Christmas trees will be ground and recycled as boiler fuel.
▪ Christmas trees do not count as hurricane debris. Do not leave your Christmas tree at rights-of-way in Beaufort County. The county’s hurricane debris removal contractor will not remove Christmas trees.
▪ The Town of Hilton Head is offering its Grinding of the Greens program through Jan. 15. For more details, click here.