Humor by John Christmann

The True Meaning Of January

A Christmas elf in the garbage

There is no better way to kick off the New Year than by throwing away an elf.

As part of my post-holiday tradition, I went to the dump the other day. At this time of year, when the house fills up with stuff, I at least regain some sense of order by discarding boxes and wrapping paper and Styrofoam packing material.

I know it is delusional, but going to the dump makes me feel a little less hedonistic about the holidays.

On this particular visit I backed the car up to the mechanical pit where the garbage is compressed into large, transportable blocks that will one day serve as the foundation for controversial playgrounds. One by one I heaved several large contributions of my own onto the heap below.

With every satisfying toss I felt a little lighter, a little freer, a little more ready to start the year.

But amid the mix of black garbage bags, drab broken furniture, abandoned household appliances, and other useless stuff from people’s lives, a flash of red and green color caught my eye.

Sticking out from beneath the sea of refuse was a pair of legs. The legs were adorned in striped green stockings and pointy red shoes with bells on the toes. Nearby, was a green and red hat resting an unnatural distance from the torso underneath.

I am no CSI expert, but it was clear that someone—perhaps in delight to be finally rid of December—had pitched a perfectly good elf.

Believe me, I understand why someone would want to get rid of an elf. Like a lot of people, after the first of January I am in a hurry to clear the house of all things red, green and festive. Lights, ornaments, decorative knick-knacks, everything goes back in their dark containers and stored out of sight for eleven months deep in the recesses of our attic.

Everything except the cookies. Those I scarf down without guilt knowing that I will work them off with my renewed membership to the gym. At least for a few weeks, anyway.

It is January. Enough already with the holiday spirit. It is time to kick butt and get back to life in the fast lane. Let’s face it, Peace on Earth and Good Will Toward Men are holiday sentiments that are celebrated without measure at the end of the year precisely because we are not so peaceful and not so good at the beginning of the year. And the many months that follow as well.

So in an attempt to start fresh from a prolonged holiday hangover, I completely understand how someone—at least someone like me—could cathartically enjoy grabbing an elf by the feet, swinging it around and around, and flinging it far, far into the abyss.

Still, something kind of bothered me looking at the pathetic thing lying in a helpless state of landfill. Heaving useless junk is one thing. Hurling an elf seems to be something all together different.

But I am not sure why. Every year in the spirit of the holiday I buy a tree that has been brutally severed from its roots and put it in my living room like a hunting trophy. Then a couple of weeks later, when it is good and dead, I abandon it by the curb for someone to haul away and grind to a pulp.

So why should I feel odd that someone wasted an elf?

Besides, I don’t particularly like elves. They are kind of creepy. I have never met one, but my impression from reading Grimm fairy tales is that they are annoying and mischievous creatures who live in the woods and like to steal children.

But then I get them mixed up with trolls and dwarves and gnomes and leprechauns, so this may be an unfair characterization. Believe me, the last thing I want to do is negatively profile a group of imaginary beings just because they are height challenged and bothersome.

And then it occurs to me that maybe elves are an endangered species. I mean, besides Santa Claus and Harry Potter and the Keebler cookie company, do you know anybody who owns an elf?

And finally it hits me. I suddenly understand what is really bothering me about the discarded elf. It is green! It should be recycled!

If more people conscientiously recycled during the holidays, that poor elf would not be lying at the bottom of a trash heap. No, it would be reconstituted and repurposed and folded up in a plastic sarcophagus deep in someone’s dark attic right now, ready to be used again next year.

For a minute I considered plucking the thing from its inglorious fate. But it was greasy, toxic, and smelly down there.

And besides, it is January. I need to move on.