Christmas helped give us some normalcy this year, thank goodness. And like usual there is the cleanup. It’s never as fun as the decorating, the cooking, the gift wrapping and putting gifts under the tree, but it has to be done — unless you’re one of those folks who leave the Christmas lights on the house year-round, turned off and hoping no one notices. (Here’s a little secret .. we notice).

When the cleanup is finished, the living room just looks drab and plain. It’s a bring down. I’ve always thought the way to get around that somewhat would be to put up travel posters for exotic locales like Tahiti and Bora Bora around the room. Not that I could afford to go there, but dreams are important for building morale and when it comes to a vacation in Bora Bora, a fellow can dream can’t he?

That's a wrap

When I was a kid, for our family get-togethers, there was usually a fire going in the fireplace and after the presents were opened we went crazy burning the wrapping paper. How’s that for helping with the cleanup? We would throw it in and watch the fire blaze up as the paper was engulfed in flames. Sherman would have been proud.

Somebody told us the dyes in the paper were poison if you breathed the smoke, but we were young and and didn’t (cough, cough) care. "Fahrenheit 451," indeed. Great in their own way was when we found the stash of paper tubes from the wrapping paper and put those in the fire. If you stuck one end in the flames and the other end out of the flames it would start burning on the one end but shoot flames out the other. We pretended it was a tank firing or a flamethrower because nothing says “Merry Christmas” like playing army in the fireplace. Of course, back then boys got army toys all the time so it wasn’t so out of the ordinary.

I’ve got a live tree this year so I’m “looking forward” to the day I get to drag it out of the house, probably Jan. 2, as my wife likes to leave the decorations up through New Year’s to get the most out of the holidays. But I know everyday that tree sits in the house after Christmas the more the dry little spruce needles are going to break off as I pull it out past the sofa and out the front door.

We usually have our artificial tree up, but this year one of the kids got all “traditional”-minded and went out and chopped down a tree in the yard and had it up in the house before I knew what was going on. Christmas is a time of surprises, right?

I don’t know if you heard, but the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree this year had an owl hiding in it that made it the whole way from when it was cut down to New York City. I was extra careful to check out the live tree in the living room this time around to make sure there weren’t any owls in mine ... or possums hanging from their tails in there. Skunks don’t live in trees, do they?

Boxed in

The biggest cleanup issue is the boxes. The Town Crier has written before about Boxing Day and about the different sizes and types of gift boxes and what might or might not be in them.

Boxing Day, you may recall, is a British thing that takes place the day after Christmas. It’s a day of open stores, special sales and returned gifts. It’s probably closest to our Black Friday shopping spree after Thanksgiving.

For us, boxing day is when we box up all the decorations and stick them back in the basement or attic. We use those plastic tubs so maybe we could call it “Tub Day." Maybe we could make it a national thing on Jan. 2 and there could be parades and TV specials. “It’s the Carrie Underwood Tub Day TV special. Gather the family around the set and sing-along!” Americans love TV specials. Tub Day might scare little kids though as they think they are going to have to take an all-day bath.

In the Boxing Day article I did touch on the joy it brings to kids when the family gets a new appliance like a dishwasher or, best of all, a new refrigerator. The joy for the kids is that they get the box to play in. There’s a cartoon called “SpongeBob SquarePants” and he and his buddy get an empty box and all day long they play in it using their “imaaaaaagination!” There’s the joke, which is funny because it’s partially true, that kids often times love to play with the boxes more than the toys. I know there were times when that was true of me although usually, it’s the parents' gift boxes that the kids play with.

There are myriad uses kids can find for the empty boxes. And these days with all the online buying and free delivering, well, my carport is already stacked with enough empty boxes from Amazon, Target and Walmart to make it look like that warehouse full of crates from the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark." And if there was a lost ark out there, I wouldn’t be able to find it.

We try to recycle, so I know apart from taking the tree, lights and displayed Christmas cards down, I’m gong to spend an hour or so breaking those shipping boxes down flat so they will go in the recycling bin at the transfer station. You’ve got to do your part for mother nature while you try and avoid paper cuts.

Boxes are multi-purpose

Of course, a kid can take those boxes and use them for all sorts of things. Those boxes can be turned into oversized building blocks to stack or build castles and doll houses ... or doll condos. With enough boxes, enterprising young monster movie fans (like me) can build a kid-sized skyscraper and pretend to be Godzilla and knock them down ... over and over again, until dad lowers the newspaper that he’s reading in his pajamas as he smokes his Christmas pipe and glowers at you to stop. I know, dads don’t smoke pipes anymore, but it does conjure a nice, old time holiday picture in the mind's eye doesn’t it?

If the boxes are big enough, you can crawl under them and be a turtle ... or an army tank. Flip it over and it makes a great hiding place as you pull the lid shut over you. Once you’re in there you can pretend you’re an astronaut in a space capsule. I was resourceful enough to cut some holes in the box and make windows or portholes to view the passing (imaginary) planets. Then you can put the box on its side and you’ve got a private place to play with your toys.

And if you have a cat, there are hours of fun to be had by the kids as they play various cat games with the boxes. Cats love boxes as much as kids do. My favorite was to put the box on its side and “tickle” the back of the box. The cat knew something was in that “cave," but what? With a pounce it would attack. And it would pounce over and over again. Cats never get tired of pouncing. Or, put the cat in the box, close the lid and tickle the top of the box. The cat would pounce straight up. Hilarious.

If the weather is decent and sunny, no matter how cold, and the box is big enough, you could always take the box outside and come up with things to do with it out there. Primarily that would involve cutting the box open and making either a sled out of it or just using it as a slide. You’ll need a steep hill with grass or snow to make a sled out of the box. But you can curl the front of it up like a toboggan and slide down the hill.

Here it’s usually a grassy hill we have to use as Christmas snow is a rare commodity. The grass gets slicker the flatter it gets mashed and if the hill is anywhere handy the neighbor kids are going to hear the squeals and join in. Luckily, we have a lot of hills around here. If the boxes are big enough you can actually lay them end-to-end and make a slide out of the cardboard. It’s like a cardboard Slip’N Slide. And for extra speed, use a box to sit on as you slide down.

Christmas cleanup can be a drag or you can make an effort to make it a little more fun. Not much is going to help cleaning up the dried up crinklies of a live Christmas tree that has less water in it than an Egyptian mummy, and the incessant vacuum cleaning that goes along behind it.

But, if you’ve got some travel posters of Bora Bora to hang by the chimney with care as you take down the lights and the manger scene, and you’ve got some Beach Boys and surf music to play, that’s a sure bet to pick up your spirits during the after-Christmas cleanup. Here’s hoping you have a happy “Tubbing Day."

Mark Hannah, a Dalton native, works in video and film production.

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