I have been waiting for the post-December letdown to hit me. Like the icy 30-mile-per-hour winds that will blow their way through Baltimore tonight.
It’s that time of year I hate, when I have to take down the tree, put away the Advent calendar, and stow the red and white cookie tins until further notice.
It’s time to sink into winter like a kid dropping angel into a snowdrift.
My principal gave our staff an Advent prayer book this year with readings for each day in December. It was lovely, and I missed reading it the weekend we got snowed in and I left it at school. Its message is clear – slow down, wait, don’t miss the important stuff during the holiday season ’cause you’re jacked up on your chestnut praline latte and want to get to Best Buy.
I get that. But I have long ago decided that December SHOULD be busy, that the natural order of things when the days get shorter is to put lights on our back deck, sparkly things around the house, and “Last Christmas” on the iPod.
Making a celebration out of the darkest month of the year is what we are biologically programmed to do. We’ve been doing it since the tribes of Northern Europe lit up bonfires to warm the solstice nights, and Jews began to light candles to remember the Maccabees.
When it gets dark, we are supposed to get our party on.
As a family, I think we do December well. We shop early for the holidays. We also aren’t extravagant. This year, I spent less than $200 on each kid. And I might have spent $250 on the rest of the family. Some years I definitely spend more. But this year, I tried to give small presents that would make their recipients smile – like an emergency dark and stormy kit for my brother-in-law, who loves his rum and ginger – or gifts that people asked for, like Dunkin’ Donuts gift cards.
We also spread things out. Christmas Eve is celebrated on our own, which means my kids and I go to Mass at our own church and then enjoy a Noche Buena meal with our friends Ana and Nestor and a hodgepodge of pals. The next day, Christmas dinner is at my parents’ house with my siblings and their families. So, we have our space and our together time.
Plus, we share the burden – our family dinner is a potluck with everybody in the family bringing a portion of the meal. My kids and I usually make several kinds of cookies. Which we love to do.
Every year, there are parties we don’t make (Sorry, April and Jen.) and plans we can’t accomplish. (As much as we’ve talked about it, we’ve never been tubing.) And we don’t go to the mall between Thanksgiving and Christmas so we can stay as sane as possible. Some years, like this year, the kids are in Montana with their dad and his family, and everything is very low key.
And yet — as scaled back as our December is, it still feels like one big candy wrapper, stocking-stuffed, party-a-go-go moment after another, and suddenly it’s 6 a.m. on a school day and my daughter is making brownies for a party she forgot about. Three days before break. Or it’s Christmas Eve, there’s one more gift, and no paper anywhere to be found, not even the black cheetah stripes which I could at least dress up with some red and green ribbon. But who am I kidding? I love the craziness. I love the merriment. This is the way December should be.
Which brings me to January. I think this is the month we are really supposed to slow down. If December is the month of making light, then January really should be the month of being still. Not quite hibernating — although the weather of late might make us consider that option. But being still.
Maybe there is only so much slowing down we are supposed to do in December, because January is really the time for this.
Instead of vowing to shed weight or to organize our finances, maybe we should vow to relax. Instead of feeling a post-holiday funk, maybe we should embrace our time to breathe and to savor joy and to truly appreciate the fact that once again we have survived the darkest month of the year.
Maybe this too is a time to feel blessed.