The holidays are over. At my feet, in front of the gas stove, Bonnaroo’s little puppy bed is filled with a black and tan silky swirl of fur like a soft serve ice cream cone. Pooled water on the glass-top patio table begins to ripple like fish rising on a lake with the first raindrops of the next storm. The green spires of daffodils are up three inches in the backyard. It’s officially, what I call, our first of only four weeks of winter.
Spring is already relentlessly and, heedless of the calendar, bullying her way here. Part of me is grateful. Part loves the quiet, short days, long nights, and inward adventures of winter. Sometimes four weeks is not enough. As much as I love the hubbub of parties, celebrations, and gatherings, I’d love to sit cozy and quiet on the other side of the solstice for just one season in my life. Covid almost blessed me with that.
Yesterday, I noticed a now-cheap-looking holiday banner of pinecones and ribbons in the CVS parking lot framed by the bony, arching branch of a bare tree in front of Starbucks. After a month of “Happy Holidays”, “Merry Christmas”, “Peace on Earth” and the unfulfillment of the latter, it felt like a sign that reads “All ye who enter, abandon all hope.” It reminded me of that story about the enemy soldiers in the trenches of World War I, stopping their conflict long enough to sing Silent Night together, before resuming killing each other. It also reminds me of Mother Teresa’s steadfastness. In the face of never-ending poverty, she replied to a reporter’s question about her impossible task: “God has not called me to be successful. He has called me to be faithful.” And so the banners and lights and trees will be up for a few more days, encouraging us into the dark night of winter.
The saddest sight in the world is the soggy puddle of a deflated Santa blown halfway across a lawn. Often you’ll find these reminders of the brevity of the holidays even before the big day they portend. For me, without a deep religious connection, the celebrations can feel as hollow and fragile as an inflated Santa in a storm. I do love the tradition of dressing up and gathering with friends and hopefully family. I love the lights, although not those down the street mixed with neon Trump signs. I like receiving gifts, though shopping for others stresses me out. I like having the sharp woodsy scent of a conifer fill my home. I like using the fancy dishes, crystal, and the glow of candlelight. I even like that stupid stuffed moose-looking reindeer hung from the staircase post at our entryway that obnoxiously rings bells, wags its head, and sings “Better watch out…” every time you walk by.
One of my favorite Christmases was after dinner at my daughter’s when she dimmed the lights, my niece lit candles, music played low, Lisa set up her table in the living room, and alternately gave massages to everyone. Another special time was also at Lisa’s when I read an article about the origins of the idea of flying reindeer, ornaments on trees, etc. Everyone, big and small, surrounded me on the couch and sat close to my feet on the floor as if they were seeking guidance from an elder. Normally, I’m just a wife, mom, aunt, and grandma. In that moment, I was surprised to see that I’d become a revered crone, if only with a magazine article I read off my phone.
Of course, advertisers very cleverly and effectively try to convince us that the feelings of these moments can be bought with the purchase of their products. If I were a salesperson, I’d do this, too, but we need to understand that these feelings of hope and connection can only be made by ourselves, with maybe a few candles, soft music, and the joining of our spirits.
The whole family laughed one time when, after opening the presents Christmas morning, the Christmas tree fell over as if to declare its work done and our celebration complete. My mother, had she been there, would have been horrified by the chaos. We also laughed when after waving goodbye to my brother’s family out the front door, we came in to find my son’s Malamute standing over the leftover prime rib on the kitchen floor. There was also the time at a midnight Christmas supper with my family and in-laws when I learned the terrible price my daughter-in-law’s mother paid to get her family out of her country to come to the US. Or the time my elderly mother, sitting at Christmas dinner, announced to us all the amazing coincidence that she had a son who looked just like my only brother sitting across the table. How do we manage this life, these moments? We hold on to each other – those we love and who love us. For me, that is the true gift of Christmas – one that needs to be cherished and nurtured the whole year through.
In two to three weeks, the almond trees will bloom, and then the Acacias and Evergreen Pears. Daffodils will be nodding their yellow trumpets in a month, and then the fruit trees will burst forth like Fourth of July fireworks. Until then, I’ll sit in my four weeks of winter and savor the darkness. Jane Kenyon wrote: “If it’s darkness we’re having, let it be extravagant!”