‘Twas 21 nights after Christmas, when all through the house
Not a single ribbon was disturbed, by human or mouse
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
Even though St. Nicholas had already been there.
In homes across New Jersey, Christmas decorations are lingering well into January. With Valentine’s Day a month away, locals say they’re in no rush to dismantle their trees, lights and home displays.
Some say the timing is par for the course, given their enduring love of the holiday. Others suspect their reticence could have something to do with the COVID-19 pandemic upending their 2020.
Linda Albelli decked out every nook and cranny of her Victorian home in Closter starting on Black Friday, using the holiday keepsakes she’s collected over 40 years.
She has three Christmas trees — one large and two small.
“It’s not gaudy,” Albelli says. “I just love it.”
Among friends and family, she’s known for her “Christmas addiction.”
“I’m already planning for next year,” Albelli, 66, tells NJ Advance Media.
But three weeks after Dec. 25, every single piece of her holiday decorations – from the stockings at her fireplace to the baubles and pinecones in the dining room, gingerbread men in the kitchen and ribbons on the cabinets — is still there.
When will she start disassembling her yuletide decor?
“Maybe the end of January,” she says. “Definitely after the inauguration.”
In fact, Albelli has switched out her Christmas countdown calendar with a countdown to Jan. 20 — Inauguration Day.
For Albelli, that timing isn’t all that far removed from her usual take-down day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 18). So in one way, the pandemic has not affected her routine. But in another, it has completely altered tradition.
Since COVID-19 meant she couldn’t see loved ones in the way she normally would at her home, Albelli considered not decorating much at all this year. When she floated the idea to Don, her husband of 41 years, the first responder, a rescue squad volunteer, quickly dissuaded her, with visions of Christmas trees dancing in his eyes.
“He’s the master of the lights on the tree and the outside,” Albelli says, and always loved going to pick out a live tree. In the end, she wound up devoting a significant amount of time and attention to her holiday setup.
“I think I probably did more than I usually do and I’m in no hurry to take it down,” she says.
After all, she says, the tree is still “drinking water.” And each day, she can wake up to see it standing there, evoking joy and tranquility.
“It’s just uplifting,” Albelli says. A year and half ago, she was laid off from her job as an editorial coordinator at a college textbook publisher. Now she waitresses a few days a week at the same luncheonette she worked at when she was 15.
Each Christmas ornament and keepsake isn’t just a bauble or accessory, she says — it’s a memory. As she takes them out of storage each year, she relieves those memories, one by one.
“A little piece of them is still with me,” Albelli says of the people who gave them to her, whether they’ve died or she just can’t see them because of the pandemic. Gifts from her daughters from when they were children, and those moments in time, come back to life, if only for a month and a half.
“It just warms my heart,” she says.
Jonathan Caspi, a therapist and professor of family science and human development at Montclair State University, says he can see Christmas lights as one answer to “feeling like there’s not much to look forward to.”
The pandemic has generated such an open-ended feeling of uncertainty. Why not fill it with some extra weeks of holiday cheer?
“There’s always some people who leave them up pretty long,” Caspi says. “I could see people this year wanting to cling to nice things more.”
Even if decorations can act as something of a security blanket in a tumultuous year, he advises that people get on the same page with family members or others in their household if they intend to leave them up for a while past the holidays. And he raises the question of how long is too long.
“Maybe leaving them up all the time takes something out of it,” Caspi says, making it less special somehow. He suggests dispelling some of the post-holiday blues by planning socially distanced meetups with friends or taking a drive for a change of scenery.
“We don’t necessarily have to fall into a trap of, ‘Oh, we have nothing to look forward to,’” Caspi says.
Jeremy Eisengrein, a communications professional who lives in Spring Lake, sees a definite Christmas remainder in his townhouse community.
For his part, Eisengrein left a small “agnostic” wreath on his front door.
“To be honest, I kind of enjoy it. I don’t see why we can’t keep some holiday cheer going throughout January,” he says.
Eisengrein, 27, recently moved to the Monmouth County borough from Hoboken, following a trend of people leaving their New York-adjacent communities after the pandemic’s vanquishing of city commutes.
While he figures the prolonged holiday interlude is something of an escape from the sometimes unforgiving reality of early 2021, he knows it may irritate people.
“I could see it bothering some neighbors,” he says.
Ornaments hang from the ceiling in Lisa Pasechnick’s Hillsdale living room. A small Christmas tree is flanked by two Santa Clauses. Above, strands of rainbow lights top the front windows as illuminated snowflakes shine in icy white.
“It’s not about being lazy,” she says. “I like it.”
Pasechnick says her sister-in-law texted her husband, Mark, to ask when they were going to take their lights down.
“He said never,” she says.
The post-Christmas decorations have been a bright spot in a dark time for the family.
Pasechnick, 59, has been visiting her 95-year-old mother in rehab after she suffered a stroke and fractured her ankles on New Year’s.
Seeing the warm glow of colored lights in the dogwood outside is like a balm.
“I need that now,” she says of her holiday cheer. “I’m not taking them down.”
Pasechnick worked as a chef and brand ambassador at Bloomingdale’s but lost her job to the pandemic. After she developed COVID-19 symptoms in April, her family contracted the coronavirus. And then there’s the state of the country.
“We’re not exactly in peaceful times,” Pasechnick says. “And I don’t care what my neighbors think.”
She has two Christmas trees — a cat-friendly fiber optic one in the house and a live one on the porch. It’s not going anywhere. In fact, Pasechnick sticks hearts in it for Valentine’s Day.
“One year I hung Easter eggs in it,” she says.
Scott Churchson and his wife are also still rolling with their tree and lights in Lodi. Usually the decorations are gone a few days after the New Year.
“With COVID being the way it is and the kind of things that it’s put a lot of people through, you need whatever you can to give yourself some psychological escapism,” he says. “It’s been such an odd Christmas that in some bizarre way, it feels like we didn’t have it.”
Then there’s 2021 — the Capitol riot and fallout.
“How naive we were to say, ‘Out with 2020!’” says Churchson, 45, who works in radio and TV.
He’s a big fan of how his Christmas scene looks, but is not so keen on putting it together — or taking it down.
“Theoretically we’ll get around to it this weekend,” he says.
After all, Churchson says, it’s only 49 weeks till Christmas.
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