"Christemas hath made an end, Well-a-day! well-a-day! Which was my dearest friend, More is the pity!" English Traditional Carol

It’s hard to believe that the anticipation of Advent, the bright sheen of Christmastide, the piercing light of Epiphany have all come and gone.  But in spite of all our glad Christmas-keeping, January 7th just will not be gainsaid. We took our tree down last night, and today my rooms are heartlessly bare.

“How could I ever have imagined my house was warm and inviting outside of Christmastime?” I lament to the front hall each year.

The echo I hear is not in my imagination. It looks (and feels) like the Grinch has been here. I didn’t even notice the shabbiness of the loveseat upholstery or the threadbare place in the rug back in December, but now they’re all I see.

The red silk ribbons have been rolled back on spools until next year; the holly and the ivy wreaths and the pine garland all swept away to the burn pile; the beloved ornaments packed rather obsessively in tissue paper. The only thing that remains is a mercury glass bowl of oranges on the counter and the garland of Christmas cards framing the kitchen door.

“I’m leaving them up,” I told Philip. “I need my people in January.”

And I do. Never before have all those bright faces and glittered images given me so much joy. I smile back every time I catch sight of their smiles, so many those of children who have a rather poignant habit of getting taller and and handsomer and more beautiful each year, like young kings and queens of Narnia. I love all the snow-crusted scenes with hand-written sentiments inside. I love the flash of gold foil and the opulence of verse and the cardinals and the holly berries. I love the little rattle they make whenever someone passes briskly through the doorway, and the fact that I have to keep straightening the ribbon to which they are pinned, as the whole thing reaches nearly to the floor on both sides.

A garland of smiles

We had a lovely, shadow-laced holiday, and I’m percolating with anticipation over certain plans and projects for the New Year. I’m savoring the gift of a pause before classes start back, and reclaiming my pantry from six weeks’ worth of treats, and shepherding myself into a much-needed quiet month.

But today I’m just missing Christmas–the sparkle, the aromas that bring tears to my eyes, the red ribbons and the red tapers and the champagne and the fireworks. I’m missing the poetry and the magic–the gold dust of significance cast over ordinary, earthly things.

On Wednesday I set a little table by the tree for the traditional end-of-the-season lunch with my dear Christmas compatriot. For years now we’ve bookended our holidays with intentional anticipation and savoring, and of all people on earth, she knows why it’s so needful to wrap it up in a last sheen of pear cider, red glass and King’s College carols. We ate “Little Epiphany” cheese from a local creamery, topped with the last of my cranberry conserve, and feasted simply (and somewhat refreshingly) on soup and cornbread. We talked about the Christmas we’d had, and the things we’re looking forward to. About the girls we once were and how the older (ahem, more seasoned) we get, the more we need to mingle their ideals with the wisdom of our experience.

(We didn’t talk about this, but she wouldn’t bat an eyelash at the fact that I burned well over a hundred tea lights and votives this past month, or that we went through at least that many freshly ironed damask napkins.)

We used to talk about how to keep it simple, and how to console ourselves once it was all over. Now we talk about how to hold all this bright-edged sadness, how to carry it into our year, and how undeniably lovely the Light is against all the darkness.

She left me that day buoyed with the sweet elation of a shared tenderness, ending this holiday on a harmony of joy and inspiration. I finished the pot of lemon rooibus I’d brewed, and watched the sun set in a lovely, long-shadowed flush of rose-tinted gold. Just like my Christmas, I thought, winding down with a gentle, jewel-spangled radiance.

I am so thankful–for more things than I can recount, in words I just don’t have yet.

Tree-spangled sunset

I’ve posted this before, but I love this poem by Robert Herrick. It captures for me the essence of celebration buried at the heart of each season of the year–and of life: the promise of new things coming and the unfading beauty of old things that will always remain.

Ceremonies for Candlemas Eve

Down with the rosemary and bays,
Down with the misletoe ;
Instead of holly, now up-raise
The greener box (for show).

The holly hitherto did sway ;
Let box now domineer
Until the dancing Easter day,
Or Easter’s eve appear.

Then youthful box which now hath grace
Your houses to renew ;
Grown old, surrender must his place
Unto the crisped yew.

When yew is out, then birch comes in,
And many flowers beside ;
Both of a fresh and fragrant kin
To honour Whitsuntide.

Green rushes, then, and sweetest bents,
With cooler oaken boughs,
Come in for comely ornaments
To re-adorn the house.
Thus times do shift ; each thing his turn does hold ;
New things succeed, as former things grow old.

~Robert Herrick

I’ll be all right. In a day or so my home will feel like home again without all the bright trappings, and I’ll look for ways to celebrate the starker, sharp-edged joys of January.

But if the day ever comes wherein I can face the end of Christmas with equanimity, then I shall know my heart has grown old. God forbid.

The three red roses Christmas left in her wake.

If you’re so inclined, treat yourself to these two end-of-Christmas carols:

Emma Kirkby’s haunting version of Christemas Hath Made an End.

Kate Rusby’s gorgeous version of Herrick’s Candlemas Eve (which I absolutely adore. It feels like an anthem for my New Year.)