The 2011 holiday season has been over for approximately a month now, and even the slowest among us has probably put away the last celebratory vestiges.  Christmas lights and tree decorations have been replaced in their cotton-lined cartons, safely stowed away for another year.  Dried out evergreens have been carted away by the garbage trucks and the fallen pine needles swept into the trash bins.  Wrapping paper and ribbon that wasn’t decimated by greedy hands has been put into drawers to be recycled for future gift-giving.  The last of the sour egg nog has long since been poured down the drain, and the dreaded fruit cake pulverized in the waste disposal.  Mothers and daughters take to the malls in droves, January sale-shopping being the best antidote for post-yule depression.

I’m Jewish.  How do I know all this? From movies and television, of course.  But while I don’t actually share these specific end-of-holiday rituals with my Christian friends, except for the one about going to the mall, the celebration of Chanukah (or Hanukkah if you’ve never learned how to gargle) leaves its own detritus.    For example, there is the issue of ridding your kitchen of the lingering aroma of fried potato latkes.  This can take about two weeks, and a gross of air freshener.  (In the end, I’m never sure what’s actually more desirable – eau d’ Used Canola Oil or Southern Magnolia Bouquet?) Then there is the labor of picking the hardened wax from the menorah, the candle holder which burns a total of  forty-four candles over the eight nights of the holiday.  I can recall a time when picking at candle wax was a sensual experience, but that was from a chianti bottle over a romantic dinner in an intimate Italian bistro.  And I was in my twenties.  This is as far from sensual as root canal.  Would manufacturing dripless Chanukah candles be a blasphemy against the Maccabis?  I guess tradition is tradition, so I spend an entire morning standing over the sink armed with as many small, sharp objects that I can find, and jab at the little candle holders until they are empty and ready to embrace next year’s lights.

So “Frosty the Snowman” has melted away in the eighty-degree Florida heat and can no longer be heard every time I walk into CVS, and the store where I buy my dog food has stopped playing “O Holy Night.”  On the surface, it appears that time has indeed moved on.  But one lingering holiday-related issue remains, as least for me —  what to do with the greeting cards that contain the beautiful smiling faces of my friends and their families?

These are not like the Hallmark variety or the greeting cards from your dry cleaner or newspaper delivery man.  Those you might save for a few days and then guiltlessly abandon them to the recycle bin.  But the family photo cards?  I look through the small stack still remaining on my kitchen counter.

Why, it must have cost the Clarks a small fortune to assemble all twenty-eight children, grandchildren and dogs in the Australian outback.  Not to mention the cost of the photographer.  And look at them, how lovely and happy they are, healthy white teeth displayed for the camera.  What do I….?  How can I…..?  But on the other hand, do I really want a family portrait of the Clarks in my permanent collection?

And here are the smiling Bensons.  Not quite as many as the Clarks, but lovely all the same.  Oh – look, Tracy’s holding the new baby.  How sweet! Can I even consider recycling that baby?

Underneath the Bensons are the Berkowitzes.  Berkowitz? Why did they do a Christmas card? There are enough people in this group to qualify as a tribe.  And Papa Berkowitz did not fail to include his annual family-update letter, with each person discussed cross-referenced with the photo.  Now I understand the little numbers on their chests.  Boy, he really put a lot of effort into this one.  So how can I…..?

And then there’s Betty.  She has no children, but look at her adorable dogs.  I do love dogs.  I would never trash a dog.  But yet……

Here’s the next one.  They look familiar.  Oh, they’re my grandchildren.  Not the best picture, and I have so many others.

So here I stand by the garbage pail, with the photo cards in hand, immobilized by  agonizing indecision.  Dear friends, you have to help me solve this annual dilemma once and for all.  It would be perfect if the cards could self-destruct forty-eight hours after New Year’s Day.  But until such time as science catches up with need, next year, when you send the new family portraits, may I suggest that you include an expiration date?

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