Riding the Christmastide: how honouring a slow, lingering feast battled my winter blues
Last year, Anne of Modern Mrs. Darcy invited her readers to share a list of things that were saving them through the long winter months. It turned out so delightfully well that's she doing it again. Since my first list was full of the little things that make a difference, this year I'm sharing one big thing: honouring the Christmastide.
Christmastide begins on Christmas Day (Dec 25), and, depending on who you ask, extends to Theophany (Jan 6 if you're Orthodox, or the next Sunday after if you're Catholic) or to Candlemas, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple and Festival of Lights (Feb 2). The longer period is the older tradition, and comes with a soothing sense of symmetry: forty days of feasting to mirror the forty days of fasting before Christmas, just like Lent's forty days are followed by 40 Paschal days until we hit Ascension. It's not same level of party as the feast day itself, but it allows for an extended feeling of celebration before the next fast is upon us.
It's an idea our household has honoured for many an Eastertide, but this is the first year that I've been intentional about making lingering feast out of Christmas. Here's how it turned out:
The promise of Christmastide took the pressure off the pre-Christmas season. Advent is a funny time to be a traditionally-bent Christian. It feels like the whole world around you is going crazy to celebrate your big holy day, but they're doing it too soon. I'm often fighting the urge to run around yelling "It's not Christmas yet!", swallowing guilt about making yet another fasting exception so my family can join in the too-early celebration, or stressing out about cramming all the fun holiday ideas I keep hearing about into the twelve days after the 25th of December. Staying off social media during the fast helps, knowing I had forty days coming later to spread out the fun stuff helped even more.
Its length kept the post-Christmas season relaxed. A lingering feast is a wonderful thing. I'm not gorging on chocolate, but I'm still nibbling. I did more baking in January than I did in December, but it never turned into a marathon, and I didn't end up throwing out an entire tin of stale cookies. My ghost of Christmas past nods approvingly; we've played part of this game before. Taking the tree down - with the "help" of small children - was still an ordeal, but it lost it frantic edge. The bits and bobs of non-tree decor are still around; they come down tomorrow. This year, I'm not worrying that they'll never make it back to the trimmings box. Those ornaments haven't been lost or forgotten, I left them there on purpose, and all that red and sparkle have been cozy companions whenever the sky's turned white.
Nothing fights off dark nights like holiday lights. The days may be getting longer, but at our latitude, the initial rate of change is incrementally small. The pace picks up by the end of January. Until then, the nights are still very long, and without Christmas lights, they feel even darker than December's. Our outdoor display is pretty piddly (we ran out of extension cords after only one side of our front step railing), but we kept plugging them in all through the first month of the year. It made our front walk and driveway much easier to navigate, and I felt cheered everytime I peaked out the window. I even found myself saluting in solidarity whenever I passed a house still lit with twinkle lights. I have no inkling of whether I was viewing the work of a fellow Christmastider, but in a world of white days and black nights, I'll take the colours as a gift, regardless of intention. Thanks, fellow neighbourhood holiday-stragglers.
It made winter seem six weeks shorter. I can hardly believe that January is already over. This is new. Usually, I'd be incredulous that it's only February. I don't know if this effect will last once I get used to seeing Christmas cards on my mantle and listening to carols 'til Groundhog's Day, but this year, it feels like I've skipped out on the worst of the post-holiday blahs. I've often thought C.S. Lewis' White Witch laid the perfect curse: 'round these parts, always winter but never Christmas is a pretty apt description of the second two months of the year. Though I've been working on that a while already, I'm not about to forgo adding a few more rounds to my joy arsenal.
It's hardly been a flawless experiment. There are still sugar cookies in my freezer waiting to be iced and another week of saying yes to my five-year-old's one and only favourite holiday album might have done me in. My grand plans for making Vasilopita for St. Basil's Day only got as far as acquiring the recipe; skating, carolling, and all things crafty are also going to wait another year. And that's okay. It's good to have something to build on. And if the post-holiday blues hit on Wednesday, Mardi Gras is right around the corner.
So there you have it. A modern take on an ancient tradition. For more lovely ideas of what's keeping other writers going this winter, do check out this year's link-up here.