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re:Virals 206

Welcome to re:Virals, The Haiku Foundation’s weekly poem commentary feature on some of the finest haiku ever written in English. This week’s poem was

     Putting Christmas
     back in
     its box
          — Alexis Rotella, Frogpond 42:2 (2019)

Jacob Salzer finds cycles and nostalgia:

I dislike how Christmas can become commercialized because it seems to take on a very superficial value in some homes and families, almost exclusively centered on physical gifts wrapped in boxes, into narrow-minded definitions. During Christmas (and during any family event or holiday), my sole wish is to simply spend time with family and enjoy food and conversations together. Everything else is secondary. So, when I read this haiku, the initial impression is putting the commercialized definition of Christmas back into the narrow-minded box that it came from.

Another interpretation is when a physical gift is something you don’t want, and you put it back inside the box when no one is looking, or perhaps put it back inside the box only to rewrap it and give to someone else during next Christmas. This reminds me, we once had a white elephant gift exchange in my family and someone brought this small popcorn machine with tape on it. It honestly looked like it wasn’t functional. It quickly became an inside joke as it continued to cycle in new wrapping paper for a few years and got re-gifted. But, aside from gifts, I think of all the Christmas lights and decorations that are stored in boxes then taken out and put back again every year. Is this cycle a kind of dull familiarity, or is there a kind of nostalgia being felt here, as we put away the Christmas lights and decorations? It is open to interpretation.

Anitha Varma sees rich layers among the details and ornaments:

This one set me wondering whether this can be classified as a senryu or a ku. The dividing line is a bit fuzzy for my understanding.  I always feel that somehow a ku is superior because it takes quite something to paint a nature picture with the minimum number of strokes and make the reader’s mind jump to a sort of ‘aha’ moment.  This seemed, at first, to me, to be a very lovely senryu, though on second reading, I am not so sure… There is a strong kigo word like “Christmas”, which clearly denotes the season. So, is this a ku or a senryu? Tough one, that, for me.

It is so lovely –  Christmas is being put back in its box! So, it came from a box to begin with, and then it is being put back there for safe-keeping, perhaps until the next time.

This evokes all that happens during Christmas in just eight syllables! When we think about it, it is difficult to stop wondering at the dexterity of the poet using words, like a miser does money, and creating such a detailed picture, as this does. And the great thing is that these details are as different as each of us, who are invited into the poet’s circle of magic! 

Each one sees the particular Christmas tree they had last year, or from any one of the Christmases they remember – the possibilities are endless! The vertical axis is so strong in this little poem, that, as I write, keep wondering at the richness of the layers it offers. The ornaments that decorate each of our Christmas trees vary widely. Maybe something significant in the reader’s life happened during that particular festive season;  some loss, a lost love found again, bunches of mistletoe perhaps! As I said, it offers as many permutations and combinations as presents to us, when we watch through a kaleidoscope.

But as of now, the festival is over, there is a little melancholy there, but there is the promise that these are going to come right out the next time – and that the decorations are safe in its box  – and that they surely will come out once the season rolls over again!

Radhamani Sarma recalls the dichotomy of the year-end holiday:

The very name Christmas leads us to configure many a meaning.  Christmas falling in the month of December is an occasion of festivity, partaking of gifts.  With her ebullient pen, Alexa Rozella begins thus, “Putting  Christmas,” weaving many a configuration, conjuring  both  pleasant and sad. The speaker must have experienced a sad and bitter incident; hence the  second and third line:

“back  in 
  its  box”  

Christmas also signifies sorrow, moments of sadness and poverty: when one part of the world rejoices, the other remains in simmering sadness with a desperate feeling of insurmountable helplessness. Hence, it could be possible that the persona desires the end of December 25th, that it be put in its box, drowning sorrow, so that newness is welcome with a fresh zeal. One cannot but recall a quote, “ in my beginning is my end,” by a world renowned poet. The same is applicable for Time, Year and Season and many similar things. Another viable conclusion is we are done with “somber December.” The image of a box is synonymous with a restricted ambiance: welcoming the New Year with a new aura, putting an end to old rags. Here we have to take the second interpretation.

Rich Schilling discovers there’s a lot to unbox:

Seems like a simple thing, “putting Christmas back in its box,” but talk to my neighbors about that. For some, putting things away is difficult. This haiku doesn’t specify whether there is an eagerness or reluctance for putting Christmas back. When I read this poem I insert my own skewed view of Christmas, and so I see an eagerness to put Christmas back. These days it seems Christmas starts earlier and earlier. Shelves lined with more than one holiday are not uncommon. Christmas has become a business opportunity more than anything religious. For some, putting Christmas behind them is a relief. It can mean the end of spending more money than they have, having relatives go back to their own home, the end of Christmas music on repeat everywhere…But there is always the flipside. A lot of things we decorate with around Christmas are handed down from older people in our families or are reminders of loved ones that have died. At my house, we set up a Christmas village with its fake snow frosted rooftops, window-lit pizza parlour, church and Ryman Hall replica. We carry on Christmas traditions that we grew up with. There are a lot of memories that come with Christmas, and when it comes time to pack it all away it can be sad. Although this haiku seems simple, it turns out there is a lot to unbox.

As this week’s winner, Rich gets to choose next week’s poem, which you’ll find below. We invite you to write a commentary to it. It may be as long or short, academic or spontaneous, serious or silly, public or personal as you like. We will select out-takes from the best of these. And the very best will be reproduced in its entirety and take its place as part of the THF Archives. Best of all, the winning commentator gets to choose the next poem for commentary.

Anyone can participate. A new poem will appear each Friday morning. Simply put your commentary in the Contact box by the following Tuesday midnight (Eastern US Time Zone). Please use the subject header “re:Virals” so we know what we’re looking at. We look forward to seeing some of your favorite poems — and finding out why!

re:Virals 207:

     not loss but
     a handful of clear water 
          — Mark Harris, burl (Red Moon Press, 2012)

This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. I just continued to think on the poem and somehow, it seems like Christmas is a jack in the box, always a surprise and then the realisation and the laughter …
    so putting the Jack back in the box is waiting for another round of surprise, the surprises of the year are done, the surprise gifts, the surprise reactions, the surprise of emotions and the overwhelming relief that it is boxed …

  2. I find it interesting that no-one who’s commented has made any reference to (a) Boxing Day, 26th December and it’s traditions and (b) the idiom “put (something/someone) back in its box”.

    Traditionally, Boxing Day is when presents etc. are removed from display, put back in boxes and stored away… boxed, as it was in the old times.
    If the idiom “putting (someone/something) back in it’s box” is considered, there’s a kind of puncturing of status implied. To put Christmas “back in its box” would imply that it’s not as important as had been claimed.

    – Lorin

    1. ummm, not always not as important, but important enough to delegate a specific place/niche for it.
      Lorin, we celebrate Diwali the same way, and somehow though the gaiety and the splendour and warmth of the festive season is wonderful, it is also rather overwhelming and somehow putting something back in its hold, is making sure it is there, where it always is, and comes back with the same kind of exuberance and cheering vitality. Without the boxing, where would it all wind up?
      And we have another kind of Boxing day, where we ask Ganesha after 10 days of festivities : ” Pudcha Varsha lowkar Yah…” Come back Soon, Ganapati Bappa, you are dear to us, We love to celebrate your birthday, but bye for now…

      how similar it all is, despite the myriad cultures, don’t tell me you love to bake the Christmas cake and cookies all year round…Lorin, 🙂

      1. Dear Pratima,
        It may surprise you but Diwali is celebrated in Melbourne, too. (Christmas is of course is in the summertime here.)
        – Lorin

    2. Lorin,

      Being American, I didn’t grow up with Boxing Day during the holiday season. However, I’d heard of it. This is what I was told about it:
      “Boxing Day was traditionally a day off for servants and the day when they received a ‘Christmas Box’ from the master. The servants would also go home on Boxing Day to give ‘Christmas Boxes’ to their families.”
      So the UK class system comes in here. I don’t know if that fits in with any interpretation mentioned so far. However, I googled it further and found a wiki page (link below) that lists all the various associated customs of different countries. It seems it’s a bank holiday and/or a shopping holiday much like “Black Friday” in the US:


      1. Theresa, it looks like the USA (perhaps around the time of July 4th, 1776? ) well and truly put Boxing Day back in its box. 🙂
        (and now I’ll get back in mine)
        – Lorin

        1. Lorin,

          Yes, I suppose the US *did* put Boxing Day (among other things) back in its box. 🙂
          Feel free to comment anytime…


  3. Dear Anita Verma,

    “In your analysis, The following leading on to the optimistic belief, which is the guiding spirit for all of u us- quite amazing.

    “the festival is over, there is a little melancholy there, but there is the promise that these are going to come right out the next time – and that the decorations are safe in its box – and that they surely will come out once the season rolls over again!”

    1. Hello Radhamani Sarma,
      I am so glad that what I was trying to express has been conveyed as well as you put it. I too enjoy the way you study these poems write your appreciation.
      Here is hoping to read you a lot more.

  4. Note also the concrete, box-like symmetry of lines 2 and 3, including some of the vowel and consonant sounds.

    1. Wow! Pretty obvious now that you point it out but I completely overlooked it. I was too wrapped up in the words. Pointing that out is a good reminder for me to always look at a poem visually.

      1. I notice the first line is much longer like christmas decorations…what are they called …tinsel
        like putting winter back where it came from…

      2. and aurally.
        As you know as I know you know (ha!), Rich, haiku is also a spoken art, if only in the back of your mind as you read. Certainly, too, page “look” and verbal effects are not needed fo all haiku — good ones exist with none of that, but can be a plus for the experience. Assonance, consonance, a beat (rhythm), etc. As for the box or other “concrete poetry” looks on a page, I ask —-> how does this lineation effect how the poem is read aloud?
        It all is a beautiful thing.

        You can clap you hands to parts of Peggy Lyles’

        Indian Summer *
        a turtle on a turtle
        on a rock
        – Peggy Willis Lyles, The Heron’s Nest and later many others

        * this to refers to a weather effect and mention of “Indian” is in context of N. American Indigenous Peoples.

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