This essay originally appeared in our monthly newsletter for The Mom Hour podcast. To get our emails, subscribe here. –Sarah
This morning on my walk there were Christmas trees on the curb. Leaning and jutting haphazardly at the end of each driveway like fallen tributes to the holiday behind us, they presented an unexpected obstacle course for the joggers and bikers and carpool kids, who were up early for the first time in weeks and outfitted with new clothes and new resolve (if not yet totally awake).
Our tree is out there too. Like so many of you, we spent yesterday boxing up ornaments, swapping out wreaths, and sweeping up pine needles. And, like so many of you, I loved it. I love the freshness of an undecorated mantel. I love the clean slate that the clearing of Christmas offers. And I love (love) the first back-to-real-life Monday of a new year.
But as I made my way through the neighborhood I found myself feeling a little sad about the trees. Not sad, exactly, but caught up in the collective story they tell about the holiday season and its unceremonious end. Every scraggly fir on the curb was, only days ago, the centerpiece of a wild and raucous morning, or the altar for a solemn holy night, or somebody’s favorite backdrop for bedtime stories. Every tree had been purchased and put up and lit and decorated and admired and Instagrammed and watered and posed next to until, on the first weekend of a new year, the whole process reversed itself like a boomerang loop until what had been an object of much admiration was now an article of green waste awaiting pickup.
My tendency is to draw clear boundaries around things: time, space, even relationships. And there’s no question that today, Monday, is a natural boundary between twinkle-lit boozy cheese-filled days of excess and whatever the total opposite of that is. Today’s the real start. So for me, the boundary-lover, it’s tempting to have every last decoration put away and look only forward on the calendar (so much to look forward to!) as I start my week, my month, my year.
Not only that, but I’m likely to be either self-critical or self-congratulatory depending on just how thoroughly the existence of Christmas has been erased by the first Monday of the year, and anything less than a complete home/life/mental state transformation feels like a missed opportunity at best, a personal failing at worst. 100% = A+. A handful of lingering holiday objects in a couple of sensible piles = a solid B. Pine needles everywhere, a few Christmas card envelopes with addresses I meant to track down still unsent, and suitcases still unpacked = Needs Improvement.
The trees on the curb made me wonder, though, if there might be some rich and wonderful reasons to let the holiday season wind down a little more gradually this week rather than slamming the door in its bloated face. I wonder if I might use the natural energy and clear mind of a fresh new year to acknowledge the season that just passed, and put it to rest with a little more love and care than I showed my Spode mugs yesterday when I wrapped them messily in dishrags and marched them up to the attic in a plastic bin. I wonder if, like the face of Janus who looks both forward and backward at the threshold of a new year, I might have an even happier start to 2020 by lingering just a little in the sweetest final days of 2019.
It’s unlike me. Really unlike me. But that’s one of the cool parts of a fresh start, isn’t it? Reinvention is no big thing in January. So here are some very small ways I might allow the holidays to linger as I go into the Mondayest of Mondays. Maybe you’ll join me by doing just one of these this week? You’ll have to let me know.
Look over our family photos from the holidays. Edit a few. Maybe make a photo book. Send a text to my MIL letting her know how much the kids enjoyed her gifts, chosen and wrapped and shipped from so far away. Flip through the holiday picture books still on the end table, appreciating how much I love getting them out every year. Sit with the sadness that comes with little kids getting big. Wear my buffalo plaid leggings one more time. Light a candle smelling of cedar, and acknowledge that there’s no reason to rush to spring scents; the winter season has only just begun. Address those last few cards and feel good about it, not guilty (who doesn’t love fun mail in January?). Have my afternoon coffee in a festive mug. Drive home in the dark and notice the exterior lights that are still up, and the giant snowman with a “Let It Snow” sign in a neighbor’s yard. Listen to this song one more time.
Tomorrow the truck from waste management will take away the trees on the curb. But today I’m choosing to see them as a lingering gift from a season that mattered, and not as trash at all.