The holidays are finally over. They were hectic, fun, bibulous, festive, busy, merry, chaotic—take your pick. Nary a silent night, let alone a holy one. Stockings were hung, presents wrapped, trees decorated, carols sung, cards mailed, cakes and cookies baked, beef roasted, potatoes peeled, spinach souffléd, wine poured, champagne corks popped, pounds gained. There have been parades and football games galore; we watched an endless marathon of schmaltzy Christmas movies.
But now the holidays are over and done. It’s time to put everything away.
It may be that there are indeed twelve days of Christmas, but for me, there’s always a bit of a letdown that rides in on the coattails of the new year. All the waiting and the anticipation and the merriment have come and gone; it’s time to face the facts: there’s still a long, cold, lonely winter ahead. And that sad truth is underlined when the home that was so lovingly decorated, that smelled so good, that twinkled with lights and candles, that rang with the laughter and chatter of friends becomes just another drafty old house that comes with a long list of chores and repairs.
Putting everything away is the sad last chapter of the Christmas story. Empty boxes come up out of the basement, then go back down, carefully packed and weighted down with memories of this year’s merriment. They will be stowed away in dark corners where they will wait patiently until they’re called back to duty eleven months hence. Giant nutcrackers, shiny ornaments, bagpiping Santas, reindeers, strings of lights, the silver star atop the tree, my Navajo creche—they’re all suddenly gone. Disappeared. Did Christmas and the New Year really happen? Maybe it was all a dream…
But I know it wasn’t. I’m just feeling a little blue today because I do so enjoy the holidays. Sure it can get a little busy, and the dishwasher is always full and needs unloading, and one of the grandkids is crying, and why are my pants so tight, and the tree fell over yesterday, and so-and-so just came down with COVID, and the credit card bill is exploding, but so what? The holidays are in our blood, and we’re primed to celebrate our respective holidays like pagans at the winter solstice. Even Scrooge came ‘round in the end and made everything right with the world.
I do think that with all the hustle and bustle of the season, the profound messages of our various holidays get drowned out from time to time. I always try to carve out a moment of silence each day to feel gratitude for friends and relative good health; to remember the stories from years past; to delight in the excitement of the grandkids; to be, even if just for a heartbeat, one of those wee creatures who are not stirring, or one of those children all snug in their beds.
It’s too bad we can’t make the holidays last. My wife and I tried one year: we left our Christmas tree standing on the porch well past Valentine’s Day. People thought it was a little strange when we hung little red hearts on the tree, but we didn’t care. We finally took it down when spring was in the air.
It’s just hard to put Christmas away. I don’t mean trudging up and down the stairs loaded with boxes; I mean dealing with all the metaphorical gifts lying under the tree: the friendships, the memories, the laughter, the glow. Come to think of it, there’s comfort in that: maybe I can’t put Christmas’ glow in one of those boxes I just carried down to the basement, but I can safely store it in my heart.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. His new novel “This Salted Soil,” a new children’s book, “The Ballad of Poochie McVay,” and two collections of essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”), are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is Musingjamie.net.