For many of you who celebrate Christmas, when the holiday is over, you are done with it all. The tree is down and out the door, and the last decorations are boxed up in the attic with lightning speed, even before Santa has unhitched the last reindeer from his sleigh. Well, if this describes you, then you might just want to stop reading this right here and now, and s-l-o-w-l-y back away from the computer and run for your lives. In my house, it isn't over until it is over, and that is not the day after Christmas. In fact, it is about a week later.
Over the years, I began to realize that by the time Christmas rolled around, I was so exhausted from the things that I felt obligated to do like shopping, cooking, cleaning, entertaining etc., that I wasn't able enjoy the holiday at all like I wanted to. The day came roaring down upon me like an out-of-control freight train. I would try to outrun that train with all of my remaining strength, doing so much at the last minute to ensure all was done before I finally fell flat on those tracks feeling more than a little run-over by it all. For some of us, we aren't done until the wee hours on Christmas morning, only to wake up a few hours later for the festivities to begin. All of the last month's preparations are played out in one short day. I don't know about you, but on Christmas day I am absolutely exhausted. Somewhere along the line, I knew that I was missing the point entirely.
I began to look forward to the week after Christmas, and not because the holiday was over, but for me it felt like it was only the beginning. The week between Christmas and New Year's can be a wonderful time of fun and family without all of the obligations, and usually after considerably more rest. My family is usually off that week from work and school and I found myself looking forward to that time as a true vacation, a real holiday with family. If you are lucky enough to be able to take off time during the year, I highly recommend doing so this week.
Our tree is still up, the house is still decorated, the lights outside are on, we listen to our own collection of favorite Christmas music, even though the radio stations and department stores are done with all of that and on to Valentine's Day. The best thing about it is that without all the rush and after we are rested and feeling much better, we can finally enjoy this great time of year. The fact that the stores are done with their marketing is an added bonus too. Though the stores have clearance sales and New Year sales, this is the week where the Christmas marketing campaign and all of the commercialization of the holiday has finally stopped. We are left with a peaceful silence like they sing about in the carols they play on those same commercials, but now we finally get it.
Last week, I decided that though we have already been doing this informally for the past 20 years, this year I am going to declare Christmas Week an official tradition for our family.
However, I am not the only one in the world who ever had such a crazy idea like having a long holiday week. In fact, it sounds like I am actually making a step back to my own roots.
In many traditions, cultures and religions, the winter seasonal holidays are not celebrated on one day, but over a period of a week or more. Hanukkah, Kwaanza, Yule and Solstice are celebrated over longer periods of time and are typically about a week to 12 days in length.
Some cultures celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas. Many people may think of those twelve days as the time leading up to the holiday. On the contrary, it is actually the 12 days after Christmas. It begins on Christmas day and ends on Jan. 6. This holiday time concludes with a Twelfth Night celebration on the night of Jan. 5, and fully ends on Epiphany, King's Day or El Dia de Los Reyes, which is held the next day. This day might bring on another feast, more gifts and/or a time to take down the Christmas tree and any remaining holiday decorations. For some, it was considered bad luck to leave any decorations up past this day.
My kids never liked that Christmas was over in one short day. I would remind them it was just beginning actually, and that they should consider this time from now through New Year's Day part of the celebration. They get to relax and enjoy their gifts, they are home from school, the decor is still up. This helped them a lot and my daughter now looks forward to this time and makes a point to remind us all at the end of the day that Christmas is not over.
Of course I am talking about Christmas because that is my own tradition. However, you might not celebrate Christmas, and you might celebrate Hanukkah, Solstice, Yule, Kwaanza or another holiday, or maybe you don't celebrate any holiday at all. It is still a perfect time of year for regrouping your thoughts, spending some time with family or just preparing for the new year ahead.
The only rules that we have are that we are not to feel obligated to do anything. We can pick something fun to do, or just rest. Maybe one year I will send out New Year cards, or bake for New Year's Eve instead of baking for Christmas. How about making that gingerbread house or those crafts that are still sitting here? I think playing air hockey or ping pong on our new game table with my daughter for hours on end sounds like a good idea. Later, I will curl up with that good book I haven't had time to read. How about going somewhere for a hike. If you have a clear day there is no where more beautiful than Point Lobos in Carmel, maybe Pinnacles near Soledad or a sunset at Rio Del Mar. We have such beautiful winter days here, many are sprinkled with warm sunshine, green grass, soft sand and a hint of spring. It is a great time to grab your camera and capture some of it too. In fact, I included some January nature photos of my own from a few years ago. Oh yes, the possibilities are endless, but none of them are obligations. What better gift could we give ourselves in our busy lives?
Well now, where did I put that book I have been too tired to read? What else will I do today? Maybe go find some sunshine and a beautiful sunset to enjoy. Maybe nothing. This is really what it is all about. A great reminder that the best things in life are usually the simplest.
Some people celebrate the end of the Twelve days with King Cake or Rosca de Reyes. Next week, I will share a little background of what I know about these celebrations, as well as a recipe for a King cake that we like to make in our family.
I am hoping to hear from readers about your own traditions as well. Enjoy and Happy New Year to you all!