“I don’t want to put the Christmas tree away.” Kiki said on January first. She wasn’t the only child to express this sentiment. It was not mere chore avoidance, the kids honestly felt wistful and sad about putting away the trappings of the holiday season. I felt the same myself, but we proceeded, because the New Year was already marching on us and we had to become ready for it.
There have been years where Christmas was scoured from the house on Boxing Day, mere hours after the holiday was complete. Other years it was allowed to linger until New Year’s Day only on principle but my fingers were itching to put it away. This year we all left the holiday reluctantly, wishing for another week of setting our own schedules, another week of brightness in the dark. I pulled out the boxes and began putting things away, hoping that the actions would help us all re-set our brains into a non-holiday mode.
“Hey kids,” I said drawing four sets of eyes to focus on me. We were at the dinner table, which I find is a good place to make announcements since they’re all seated in the same room and relatively quiet. “School starts tomorrow, so after you eat I need to to pull out your backpacks and go through them to make sure that you’re ready.” This is the sort of announcement which often triggers a scrambling panic as one child or another remembers that there was this homework assignment they were supposed to do. Instead, four sets of eyes blinked at me as if I were speaking a foreign language. What is this school thing, and how does one prepare for it? They’d packed away their school thoughts so thoroughly that they didn’t even know where to start finding them.
I sympathize. We used to get up how early? 5:30? Really? How did I do that? I rolled out of bed to the blaring alarm and had to carefully remember which steps came next: put on robe, wake Kiki, make breakfast. In October, November, early December these steps were habit. Now the habit feels rusty, as if it belonged to someone else and I’m trying to fill her shoes. I didn’t think the holidays were particularly transformative, but somehow they feel like a watershed, a turning point, instead of a pause. It is as if everything before belonged to a different era. “It’s weird, Mom,” said Kiki “but I kind of feel like I ought to be starting college, not going back to the last semester of high school.” I don’t think it is weird. Or if it is, then I suffer a similar weirdness. I want to move onward because there are things coming which I hope to reach. Yet I don’t want to leave the holiday break because the ground is cold and dark between where I am and those things I want to reach.
“Christmas, halfway out of the dark” proclaims Doctor Who A Christmas Carol. It is a ridiculous show which defies logic and delights me year after year. I think part of the reason it works for me is because of that phrase. It acknowledges that winter is a long dark journey. We celebrate in the middle by stringing up extra lights and singing special songs, but then the lights are put away and I have half of the dark journey left to go. It is the harder part because I am traveling away from the bright holiday season instead of toward it. I’m headed for spring, but it is hard to believe in spring when the world is frozen solid and I have to remember the steps to getting up at 5:30 am.
The decorations are tucked into the closet under the stairs and the tree is stashed away for the year. I am left with a front room which feels bare and in dire need of a new coat of paint. In the next few weeks I intend to supply that paint. It is one of the January projects I will use to give myself focus. Things I can focus on and accomplish in the short term as I step day by day into a time when the sun gets up before I do.
“I think we should have a two-month-long festival of lights.” Howard said while looking out the window at the first grayness of dawn. He did not want to put away the holiday brightness either. But we did. And the kids went to school, landing us on a Thursday which should have first-day-back-to-work enthusiasm. Except Thursday is when I usually begin winding up a work week. It is the day for finishing off and reassigning, not for beginning. So I light a candle despite the daylight which finally showed up outside the windows. Then I begin to feel my way through the day, with many pauses while I try to remember what should come next. Task by task, step by step, slowly traveling out of the dark.