Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Epiphany #72: Entropy and Christmas Ornaments

There is no greater proof of The 2nd Law Of Thermodynamics than Christmas ornaments.  The law states, in layman' terms, according to the Google definition, and I'm paraphrasing, that things tend towards disorder and randomness.

Each year, in January, we pack up the ornaments after the holiday season, the lights and bulbs and mementos and mugs and tabletop decorations.  We wrap them carefully, according to established routines, putting them away almost exactly the way that we did the year before.  Christmas ornaments tend to carry a lot of nostalgic weight, and, as a result, no one wants the guilt of having broken a special one or even having treated it carelessly.

From there, the ornaments are carefully placed in standard locations--the attic or the laundry room or a closet here or a drawer there.

And yet, each December, when we unpack boxes and unwind lights and remind ourselves of what we have to commemorate the season, things are not quite the same.  Strings of light which worked perfectly when rolled up eleven months earlier do not light up.  Items that we thought we knew where they were are not in those locations.

Most mysterious, though, are the bulbs and other decorations that hang on the tree.  Left in one place for nearly a year, they will have, without fail, unwrangled themselves in some strange way.  If they were put up with the wire hangers dangling from them, some of those will have disconnected.  One or two will be broken, in spite of their stillness.  The paint will have chipped or peeled.  The glue will have let go.

In one way, this is not unusual.  Many of the ornaments go to an attic which is not protected from summer heat, and so it may not be surprising that they have deteriorated in the hot box of the attic.  But this does not explain everything.  Even those that sit in an air-conditioned basement all those months exhibit the same nudge toward disorder.

And that is why they are fascinating.  They represent the general disorder of things, the way that even the most carefully protected and preserved items, those that we cherish and lavish over, are not quite the same as they were a year earlier.  Like us.

It's just that Christmas decorations, given that they only return after long intervals of time, show us that reality in more obvious ways.  Complete care and protection is anything but; it cannot stop the insidious reality that time wears down all things.

What a strange feeling it is at the start of each December to open those boxes and to know what they contain but still not to know what to expect!  But, in a more positive light, what better way to capture the essence of a holiday season that nourishes our sense of loss?  Few of us with any age on us can make it through this month without some sense of sadness, the holidays tending to accentuate the best or most memorable aspects of those we loved and lost, and to discover those emotions reflected inside a box full of fragile yet colorful trinkets only adds to the poignancy, at least for me.

Christmas has melancholy underpinnings.  We can never be children again.  We cannot bring back those who are gone.  We can't capture the innocent magic that once drove the season.  To open those boxes of our pasts, and to come to terms with what remains, which in one way or another is less each year, gives the imminent birth and the cycle of the years a meaning stronger than physical law.


troutking said...

Good. Depressing but good.

Robert Berman said...

Our glass ornaments are gradually being replaced with plastic ones. Not on purpose; just more ornamental Darwinism.