I may be more like a child than my own children when it comes to saying goodbye to Christmas. Even though some old-school Catholics like my mom believe that Christmas doesn’t truly end until after the feast of the Epiphany (when the wise men came to visit), I personally am not an old school Catholic (shocker). So I start feeling my post-Christmas depression around about TODAY, the day before school begins.
I don’t know about you, but childhood never feels very far off for me. Of course I’m an adult now with kids of my own, but I’ll never forget what it was like to be a child. And to be a child on a Sunday, any Sunday in the fall, winter, or spring, was the worst time to be a child. Today feels just like a Sunday. No matter how much you liked your teacher (I didn’t), or how popular you were (I wasn’t), or how you excelled at school (I didn’t), there was always a mild depression that moved in on Sunday and hung there like an ominous storm cloud ready to burst open first thing Monday morning.
If Sunday was the worst day to be a child, Christmastime was the absolute BEST time. The magic of Santa anticipation, the glow of lights, the smells of cookies baking or cinnamon sticks or pine from the Christmas tree, the sounds of jingle bells in almost every Christmas song, the taste of a multitude of treats – everything looks, sounds, tastes, and smells beautiful, and best of all to a child: there is no school. No early bedtimes, no dark and dreary mornings, no homework, no navigating the confusing social waters of one day Susie likes you, the next day she doesn’t, no struggling to fly under the teachers’ radar so they won’t call on you because you NEVER know the answer to the question, no watching the clock slowly tick by until it’s 3PM and you can go home for a few hours before this torture starts all over again.
Christmastime is not the free-for-all for adults that it is for children. In fact, we all know that it comes with many more responsibilities and hurtles like shopping, Christmas cards, wrapping, baking, cooking big family meals, and cleaning up big family messes. Sometimes it comes with anxiety about money, bills, arguing with your husband, or fighting with your inlaws, or fighting with your own family. But I still love Christmas. As tiring as it is, that childlike part of me still looks out the window with wonder at the beauty of it all – the comfort and the nostalgia that wraps around me like a warm, woolen blanket. There were nights during this Christmas season that I walked around my decorated house, gazing at the Christmas tree and peering out at the lights in my yard, and like a small child overwhelmed with emotions she can’t quite put her finger on, I wanted to break down and cry.
Today, the last day of Christmas vacation, I want to cry again. It’s over. Back to life, to routines, to schedules, to early mornings, to homework, to listening to the kids whine about their kid responsibilities, back to adult responsibilities, which were never really gone but just buffered for a while by the promise of the joys of Christmas. Time to take down the tree, pack up the ornaments, take down my precious “exterior illumination,” put away the stockings, and do it all with a hole in my heart that won’t be filled for 358 more days. When my boys fought off their tears tonight at bedtime, I comforted them and said all the positive things I’m supposed to say. I drew out their childlike optimism and reminded them there are other occasions and experiences in life to look forward to. But when I turned out their lights and walked out of the room, it was my turn to fight tears . . . because nothing compares to looking forward to Christmas.