4 de-decorating epiphanies, epiphanies, Epiphany, revelations, Christmas, decorations, change, renew, refresh, recalibrate, rethink, beauty

4 De-Decorating Epiphanies

What is an epiphany? The original Greek root means “revelation.” In our modern vocabulary, the word carries the idea of a serendipitous discovery, a moment of sudden mental or emotional clarity. So what epiphanies occurred to me this past week as I took down and packed away the Christmas decorations for another year?

For one thing, I tend to delay letting go of this wonderful season. I don’t enjoy the process of getting everything out (it can be tedious by myself), but I admit I love the decorations once they’re set up. In the home I grew up in, the twinkling tree and related tinsel rarely stayed up past December 26. My mom’s worry about the fire hazard of drying spruce needles could have loomed as a factor in the rush.

But I like to spin out the magic through the full Twelve Days of Christmas. This period technically lasts from Christmas Day to Epiphany Eve, or from the day after Christmas (Boxing Day for Canadians) to Epiphany itself on January 6th, depending on how you count it.

Epiphany, in the traditional Christian calendar, marks the occasion when the Star of Bethlehem led the Magi (AKA the Wise Men or the Three Kings) to visit the baby Jesus, “revealing” Him to the world. Probably the date isn’t accurate, but we won’t argue chronology here. In some countries, Epiphany holds as much importance and excitement as Christmas. Children are taught that the Wise Men (not Santa) bring their gifts.

#1 – Some things need a trash bin, not the keepsakes box.

Or perhaps a deadline, instead of dragging out the season until it suffocates me like a wool scarf on a spring day.

It’s happened frequently over our ministry career that we had to travel for a week-long camp/conference, sometimes out of our country of residence, before New Year’s. Oh, how hard it always felt to return home mid-January to a glut of decorations that seemed to have lost their glitter. This year we travel a little later, but February will be approaching by the time we get back. All the more reason to weed, sort, and stash so we can truly rest and renew.

Back in Santiago days, though, we often kept the outdoor lights up in the backyard until March. There they sparkled on through the summer evening picnics. However, there’s a limit, right? Some of our neighbors still hadn’t taken down their Christmas lights in July.

“Simplicity boils down to two things: Identify the essential, and eliminate the rest.” –Leo Babauta

I pray I’m not stuck on the old decorations of my life. This season I gave one of my Advent calendars away. I tossed a dilapidated wreath made from an embroidery hoop in 1987. I trashed a string of lights that no longer worked and sent a red jar to the White Elephant party. Wouldn’t you agree it was time to let these faded fripperies go?

Dear God, give me the grace to release the frustrations and resentments, the tattered toys and tired habits I sometimes hold onto so tightly. Do I really love those default attitudes and reactions? When I can’t move on, God help me to distinguish what is truly valuable and see when things—and thoughts—fail to accomplish their purpose anymore.

Even in my writing, I must evaluate frequently. Do I cling to the comfortable and traditional, just because? Or does what I’m focusing on need the old “circular file”? Or even a funeral? In a world centered around images, games, and monetization, how do I adapt? Should I now concentrate primarily on digital content?

#2 – Some things need a good overhaul, not a grit-and-bear-it.

Perhaps, though, instead of plunging in and adopting everything new regardless, I just need to rethink it. The second of my epiphanies.

I confess I don’t much enjoy the process of de-decorating at the best of times, let alone when I have a deadline hanging over my head. It literally takes me about a week of packing and washing and actually finding the random decorations scattered throughout the house. Funny how I don’t notice the ornament propped on the windowsill or the poinsettia magnet on the fridge after they’ve been there for a month! And then, after the Christmas stuff is collected, I have to arrange the everyday decor in its place again.

How I appreciate the (relative) openness and lightness once the job is finished. While I delight in the decorations, of course, they don’t occupy much time or space in my ordinary life. It’s great to move back to move forward.

“Decluttering is infinitely easier when you think of it as deciding what to keep, rather than deciding what to throw away.” –Francine Jay

Any machine—ministry, project, or activity—needs to recalibrate from time to time. Maybe the purpose works fine, but the method or approach needs to change. With a modern seven-second attention span, how can I make books and stories relatable and relevant?

What do I need to be writing? Or better, what does God want me to write? Because after all, though He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, He’s also the most innovative and creative Being in the universe.

God help me to stay flexible, not to resist change merely for the sake of maintaining control. No, we shouldn’t adopt every trend that comes down the pike, but we can adapt to new ideas. We can improve.

“Change will either happen to us, or because of us.” –Lawrence Miller

#3 – Some things need a little update, not a complete undo—or redo.

After January 6, it’s now time to shift into the next season. For me in Chile, that means settling into the summer chillax mode instead the winter cozy. Rub on a little sunscreen and kick off your shoes.

So I tell myself sometimes: You need to let the details go. Like the refresh button on a website, the basics remain the same. But fresh data comes in all the time. Or my computer has awakened from hibernation, ready to go again.

Perhaps my work—like my living room occasionally—needs a new look after a break. A style experiment, an updated cover. These should be easier cosmetic switches—a facelift, if you will. But a good place to start.

“Words are where most change begins.” —Brandon Sanderson

#4 – Some things need to be treasured forever, not tossed because they’re old.

In a high-tech world, I don’t live with the latest version of Alexa (at least, not yet). Though a few items got tossed or traded in this year, some things are for keeps. Forever to remember, never to be thrown away—the pinnacle of my epiphanies. Even when my kids chuckle over my attachment to a shabby Christmas stocking from 1958.

How could I ever throw away the crocheted angels, the scherenschnitte cut-outs, the street-stand Chilean cards, or the nativities from Israel and the Santiago orphanage? Even the ugly plaster set bought long ago in Chiloé cradles the memory of a time when there was literally no room available at the inn. And my daughter knit pure joy and love into that irreplaceable handmade hat.

The colors may change, but some of those “old” decorations have popped up new again. Another of my daughters scooped up a quilted Advent calendar from her ’90s childhood in a minute. (You gotta love eBay.)

Sentimental nostalgia? Yes, and so much more.

I’ve come to realize that no matter the holiday or the season, I need more everyday bliss and beauty in my life. Those things just never go out of style.

“Change your opinions, keep to your principles; change your leaves, keep intact your roots.” —Victor Hugo

Are we all so busy with mundane chores that we can’t experience epiphanies and serendipities? How clean and how contemporary does everything have to be? I don’t want my life to look as stark as a room decorated around the latest sleek gadgetry.

Give me art and music and books. And people who can still be curious and thrilled by something beautiful no matter how small.

So little really matters. But beauty does. And grace and truth. In a world of complex Artificial Intelligence, so does reality and simplicity.

These “revelations” keep me reading, writing, and praying this year. None of them got “decluttered” at my house.


  1. This week I begin the process of putting away Christmas and as I’ve added through purchases and gifts about a dozen more decorations, I’ve been thinking about making room in my totes, to fit in the under stair storage. I’ve thought about decorations I no longer use, but treasure because they were ones I made for my very first Christmas tree, the very first year I was out on my own. It brought to mind the Bible I keep that I won for learning verses at Sunday School. I don’t use it any more, but… As we come to the start of the New Year, there are definitely some things we need to give away/give up to make room for more of God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit in our lives; lives which also need decluttering. Thanks for the reminder and insight.

    1. What a wonderful way to put it: Give away/give up to make room for more of God and Jesus. So true! The decluttering experts are kind of divided between going with your feelings or going with the container space you have. I guess I’m a little bit of both. Happy de-decorating, Heather!

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