“Next to a circus there ain't nothing that packs up and tears out faster than the Christmas spirit.” ~Frank McKinney Hubbard
We’ve once again come to that odd week of the year.
As a kid, the week between Christmas and New Year’s filled me with a sad melancholy – the countdown for back-to-school was underway. As a college student, this week always filled me with energy – the countdown for back-to-campus was underway. As a young non-working mother, it became my favorite week of the year – the cooking, shopping, wrapping (and the dishes) were finally done; the morning hunt for scarves, mittens, and boots not yet resumed.
Now? I’d have to say this week of the year is a mixed bag.
As the light of Monday morning reveals candles burned to stubs, boxes stacked in corners, ragged spools of ribbon and stray gift cards strewn about, it’s tempting to close the blinds and go back to bed. Out on the street, folks aren’t quite as lively as they were last week. Pedestrians are more prone to wait placidly on the curb for the light to change (a true rarity in Seattle, where pedestrians are militant – they rarely raise their eyes to check for oncoming cars before stepping out in front of one). Bus drivers are once again solemn, having switched out their Santa hats for grubby knit caps and revived their competition for who can throw the most riders out of their seats. Even Seattle’s ubiquitous baristas seem somber as they pull the morning shots.
This is the week when reality settles back over us like a worn quilt.
Up here in our corner of the continent we have successfully fought back the darkness for most of December. We’ve accepted the fact that we’ll get up in the dark, go to work in the dark, stay indoors all day, and leave our workplaces at 5 – heading home in total darkness. We’ve kept the gloom at bay by surrounding ourselves with Christmas lights and candles. Now we have to face the truth. The pretty, twinkling lights are going away. The darkness, however, is going to stick around for awhile.
For most of December, being at work was more bearable, too. Cubicles got decorated. Break rooms were piled with treats. Employers became more cheerful, even a little bit benevolent. But this week, offices are fairly sedate. A lot of people aren’t working at all, having saved their precious time off for between-the-holidays getaways. Those who are, wish they weren’t. Things are quiet, but a little bit strained, not unlike the way I imagine old battlefields used to be – waiting for the first shot from the first soldier to crest the hill, or the first boss who returns to demand a year-end analysis.
This is also the week we must look into the mirror head on (or, worse, from behind). All those little indulgences that seemed so harmless earlier in the month must now be dealt with. We face tough choices – loosen the button, or tuck in the tummy – go to bed earlier, or buy another tube of concealer – schedule a hair cut, or hunt for a head band – have another reheated dinner, or throw out the leftovers and spread out a salad.
But not all is drear and dank once the packages have been opened and the eggnog’s been drunk. In fact, there is a very strong upside to this week after Christmas.
First, it is the week after Christmas, meaning Christmas is over.
All of the expectations (yours and everybody else’s) have been dealt with. Maybe they were all met, even exceeded, this year. Or perhaps this is the year things fell a bit short. Either way, it’s done. You don’t have worry about how Christmas is going to turn out for another 11 months (and you do have the option not to worry about it at all – I dare you).
Second, this is a great week for new starts. Even if you’re working this week, you’re probably not as busy as you’re going to be next week when everyone gets back. So clean out a file drawer. Organize your email. Back home, straighten up your sock drawer. Clean the carpet or polish the hardwood as soon as you take out the Christmas tree – you have to sweep up the mess anyway, so why not do it up right and face the new year with a shine. Buy a new cookbook and try something you’ve never eaten, let alone cooked, before. Update your address book (get your great-aunt’s address captured before you lose it again). Wipe down the top of your refrigerator (true, nobody sees it except your really tall friends, but you know what’s up there). Wash your rain jacket, it probably needs it more than you realize (be sure to take your camera out of the pocket before you do – trust me, it happens).
In short, do things that make you feel new. They won’t actually renew you, but you’re very likely to feel better once you’ve cut through the detritus any holiday, and especially Christmas, leaves behind. You may still be going and coming in the dark, but at least you won’t be going to work to face an in box masquerading as an avalanche – or coming home to face melted candles, dried out greenery, and leftovers for dinner.
And while you’re at it, this week is the perfect time to get all the way to the bottom of your dirty clothes basket. (Admit it, you never get absolutely every piece of laundry clean at the same time.) You're a good person – you deserve to face the brand new year with clean sheets and a drawer full of clean underwear.
There. Don’t you feel better already?
Coming Friday: You DO make resolutions. Don’t you?