Overcoming The Post-Christmas Blues

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Yesterday, I wrote about the anticipation of Christmas. But if there’s any counterpart to that buildup of excitement, it’s the post-Christmas blues.

The presents are all unwrapped. The house is pretty trashed – despite my best efforts to clear the wrapping paper from the living room. The sink is full of dishes, and all the delicious food we were eating tonight is still out. That bottle of Buffalo Trace bourbon my dad brought over is almost gone. The remote control helicopter I bought for my boys myself is on the charger for the fifth time today, and I’ve gotten pretty darn good at landing it. Still, the two-hours’ sleep I had last night is catching up to me, as is the cold I picked up from my boys.

All that anticipation. All that buildup. It seems like Christmas will never come, and then once it’s all over, it can be seriously anti-climactic.

I remember when I was a kid both loving and hating the days after Christmas. They were days when we hung out and played with our new toys, put the new family board games through their paces, and ate leftovers like there was no tomorrow. They were fun times, but they were also the days that stretched on into the long, cold winter, and there wasn’t much to look forward to for a long time after New Year’s Day.

Even the Church seemed to find nothing special during the stretch of year between the Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, with the new liturgical calendar calling this period “Ordinary Time.” I’ve always found that phrase odd, as if there’s anything ordinary in the life of the Church.

Traditionally, Catholics celebrated the season after Epiphany, always calling to mind the last great holy day until it was time to anticipate a new one. There was no “ordinary time, ” only a great series of feasts and commemorations. Despite the stronger emphasis on penitence in the old days, in a very real sense, you could almost say that the Church back then knew how to party.

 

I was reminded recently that Christmas is less about the fact that Christ was born than it is about the fact that He came to die for our salvation. That is the reason for the Incarnation. That is the reason for the Christ-child in swaddling clothes in the manger. That innocent child came as a holocaust; a sin offering, so that we could have a chance at heaven.

This is why this is the time of year for renewal. For starting again. I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions, since they’re so rarely kept. But I have become an advocate of New Year’s goals. Of choosing the things we wish to accomplish in the coming year and making a commitment to do our best to attain them. This is much less about weight loss and eating right (those these are always relevant in our culture of excess) and more about choosing who we want to be. Because thanks to the Nativity, we have the ability to reinvent ourselves time and time again. God’s mercy is inexhaustible, so long as we keep picking ourselves up after we fall and moving forward again.

In many ways, 2013 was a good year for me, and my family. But as the year drew to a close, it came with some reminders of what I need to change and what I need to do better in the year to come. There is much to be thankful for, and much to strive for in the year ahead. We may be taking a rest during this holy time, but the war for the soul of our country is more intense than ever.

For my part, I choose not simply to languish during this time after Christmas, but to use it as a time to chart the course for the months to come. There is so much I want to do, so many things I want to be better at, and all of it is possible because of the redemption wrought by the Christ-child. We are forgiven again, and again, and again. Each time we leave the confessional, we have the chance to make ourselves anew. What greater gift could there be than this?

This is no time for post-Christmas blues. This is a time to rest, to refresh ourselves, and to prepare once more to forge ahead. We have a great deal of work to do, and our battle is far from over.

Until then, I wish you a very merry Christmastide, and the most blessed and prosperous start to your new year.

 

 

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10 thoughts on “Overcoming The Post-Christmas Blues

  1. John Sposato says:

    Great thoughts, Steve. I enjoyed this essay. One brief comment regarding your words: “Each time we leave the confessional, we have the chance to make ourselves anew. ” Nothing wrong with that sentiment, since we do have to cooperate with God’s saving and transforming grace. But I would have preferred this formulation: “Each time we leave the confessional, we have the chance to allow ourselves to be made anew.” It is Christ’s work after all.

    1. Jack Mason says:

      I would disagree with your update. If Jesus showed us anything, it’s that we have free will and that free will allows us to have a choice as to whether or not to change our behavior. If we do or do not change our behavior, it’s based on a personal choice. We are the ones who make ourselves anew or not. Christ showed us that we create our own lives. We are the only creatures on our planet who have free will.

  2. Seth says:

    I don’t understand what you mean- or at least I do know what you mean, but I have to admonish you– you shouldn’t get post-Christmas blues until Jan.12! Until then you have a week or more of enjoyment ahead. What you’ve described is precisely WHY the Church does not honor Christ’s birth with just ONE day– there is an entire OCTAVE of days, and really you’re only getting started! At least wait until Jan.6 before you decide the party’s over! You’ve got this all backwards. I have been unwrapping presents for the past three days, and have more coming. I have more people to visit, more eggnog to drink, and more masses to enjoy. I’m just getting started– so I have no idea what you’re talking about!

    1. Steve Skojec says:

      Yes, I’m aware of the 12 days of Christmas. I was speaking of the practical fact that most people face: namely, that most of our activity surrounds that single day of December 25th. Many people have to go back to work, the functioning of the house has to return to normal, there is a sense in which Christmas is over even before it’s technically over. At the very least, the day after Christmas begins the downhill slide away from the excitement of the big day.

      I think it’s fantastic that people are able to sustain that for longer. I love hearing about traditions that help to make that happen.

      1. Seth says:

        I was raised by teachers and my wife and I both work in Catholic schools, so I’ve never known what it’s like to return to work the day after the 25th. That would put a damper on things.

      2. Seth says:

        One tradition that would help you keep the Octave is doing a blessing of the house on the Epiphany. We process from one room to the next with holy water and then bless the door to welcome all guests for the next year.

  3. Steve Skojec says:

    Glad to hear it, Beth!

  4. ErnstThalmann says:

    “I was reminded recently that Christmas is less about the fact that Christ was born than it is about the fact that He came to die for our salvation. That is the reason for the Incarnation”,

    All very St.Thomas and 19th century of you but you might want to consult Jon Duns Scotus on this point, he’s much more comprehensive. There’s more to the Incarnation than the Cross. Most of the best 20th century Catholic theology will guide you to Scotus.

    1. Steve Skojec says:

      There is certainly more to the Incarnation than just the Cross, but without the Cross, the rest of it is meaningless.

  5. Beth says:

    Thanks so much for this, Steve–exactly what I needed to hear as I faced my house in shambles this morning. I’m headed in the right direction now! Merry Christmas!

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