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.