The day after Christmas is a clearing and arrival at once on the other side of what too often has felt like a great divide for me (check out why Christmas has been like the Dread Pirate Roberts to me in this post from 2014). Emerging from a mysterious case of food poisoning or taking bad supplements or a weird-ass virus, I’m especially relieved to be on the shores of December 26 where I’m no longer crawling to the bathroom or tossing myself awake out of stomach-turning nightmares.
Beyond whatever kept me collapsing on my bed most of Christmas day, there’s the lightening of the weight of this holiday, the big Kahuna of mainstream culture, blasted from all directions for weeks leading up to it, while many of us labor and delight under its anticipation. This year, I got to labor and delight in setting up a tree to wrap in lights and and Hanukkah gifts, and string lights in assorted places around the house because who couldn’t use more light, especially this year? We also hosted Christmas dinner for the family, which I could only made brief guest appearances at between trips to dreamland.
Awake and grateful now, I meet a mostly-clear sky, and luxuriate in Kansas Public Radio playing Ralph Vaughn Williams’ Symphony #5 in D Major after days of overcast choirs churning out carols. Our annual Hanukkah party awaits later today, and New Years is coming as well as many other ceremonies, including a funeral for a beloved community member, but for now, there’s a tiny celebration of landing on the other side of something — a holiday, an illness, a bout of pressure, a stretch of cloudy weather, and what is beyond I can name, but know is burning brightly in the center of my heart.
Wherever you are, and whatever wraps around you, I wish you a lovely and refreshing day-after, and a glowing and meaningful day of December 26.
Christmas has been like the Dread Pirate Roberts for much of my life. Just like The Princess Bride character, it took no prisoners, was illusive but widely feared, and mysteriously changed over time.
Growing up Jewish, I remember cleaning my closet on Christmas, passing the day feeling left out of the party, and of course, going out for Chinese food although we tended to go out for Chinese at the drop of a hat. In my teenage years, when my father married into a Catholic family, Christmas morphed into a combination of agony, boredom, and disappointment, punctuated with lasagna and turkey. With a step-mother who made wielded the weapon of gift inequality (one year, one of my step-sibs got a car, albeit a used car, while I got a blow dryer), my insecurity gained more weight than I did from all the holiday cookies.
When I moved out of the house, I dragged Christmas-as-enemy with me, alternating between being the awkward guest in someone else’s show to trying to ignore the deafening roar of all things Christmas all around. I spent many years cursing Christmas music although, like many people, I have my favorites, and I find much of the music sweet and beautiful (not like the dirges of my people, although, given our history, we have our reasons). I rolled my eyes at tinsel, and got easily pissed off when store clerks told me to have a Merry Christmas. I could recite a well-rehearsed diatribe about how this country was founded on the basis of freedom of religion, and people need to remember that not everyone is Christian.
Yet I’ve also been ferried through some lovely Christmas moments: Midnight mass with my Catholic step-family; playing cards with the children of two beloved professors at the University of Missouri, both of whom insisted I needed to spend Christmas with a family; candlelight church services with the Methodist family I married into, holding up my candle and trying not cry when we sang “Silent Night”; singing alternative lyrics to Christmas Carols with friends (“When shepherds washed their socks at night,” which includes the prayer for the lord to make them static-free). I’ve poured out of buses to carol unsuspecting patients in the hospital, wore red ornament earrings a friend gave me, and even sewed my own stocking, zigzag-stitching my name on it.
Time changes us in ways we can’t always imagine. I find myself now actually tuning into a radio station that plays Christmas music (although I switch stations away from it just as often). I helped Ken drag a cedar tree from the field, then bedecked it with Forest, hanging the ornaments my sister-in-law has been giving each of our children for years. I strung lights through bows of cedar on top of the cabinets. But the biggest change is that I’m no longer hanging on for dear life until the relief of Dec. 26.
I’m not sure how I got here, but I suspect it has to do with having friends of many faiths — a variety pack of Buddhists, Hindus, Hare Krishnas, Wiccans, Jews of many stripes, Muslims, and Christians from Episcopalians to Lebanese Orthodox to Evangelicals. There’s also that perspective we gain over time about what matters, and the pettiness of my old Christmas grudge in a life buoyed by a bevy of blessings: a home, meaningful work, loving friends and family. Given how so many suffer at the hands of war, Ebola, displacement, poverty, homelessness, and racism, why gripe about yet another rendition of “Jingle Bells”?
The Dread Pirate Roberts turned out not to be necessarily evil, but just a guy. Christmas is both just a day and a space for great potential to connect with family, friends, light, and mashed potatoes. When people wish me a Merry Christmas, I’m now answering, “You too,” and taking in all the wishes for merry I can get.
It’s the day after the big thing whether it was a big thing I celebrated — starting with midnight mass at a massive Catholic church as a teen, where I would go with my Sicilian step-family — or didn’t — ending with Chinese food out with my family of origin after cleaning my closet. It’s the day of no expectations after the day of massive ones. It’s the time of leftovers and drives home, slowly ambling along the highway after having eaten too many miniature chocolate bars for breakfast. It’s the morning of whatever, the afternoon of nap and no pressure, and the evening of exhale.
All my life, I’ve loved this day when so little is expected, and so much is present, like right now as I write this — clothes on the bed wanting to be put away after being unpacked, pale orange horizon wanting to turn deep blue and pop itself awake with stars, all the family happily engaged in whatever anyone wants, and nothing to tend to except the need to buy more cat food. Happy December 26th to all, and to all, a good night!