Missing Christmas

"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.)

9 Responses to “Missing Christmas”

  1. Jody Collins says:

    Lanier, the season has lingered longer through your words…thank you for the visual voyage via your lovely voice. (and thank you for introducing me to Laura Boggs-your Huckleberry Friend. You two are kindreds, indeed.)

  2. Thank you for this, Lanier. Your words are always such a cup of steaming tea to my senses. This is beautifully expressed.

  3. Nancy says:

    Candlemas Eve brought tears to my eyes. Speaks to so much more than the passing of Christmas. You have a gift, Lanier, for expressing how things mean and feel.

  4. Caitlin says:

    Oh Lanier I share your sentiments! Taking down the Christmas decorations always makes me sad, and I realize how bare the house looks! To combat this, this year my daughter and I made some paper snowflakes to hang in the windows as some “winter decor.” Today we dried some orange slices to put in a bowl on the mantle. A bit colorful and festive, without being overly Christmasy. Somewhere I read about a family who had the tradition that the wise mend came on the evening of Epiphany and replaced the family Christmas tree with a new houseplant, which I find just charming. Next year I’m starting that tradition!

  5. Josie Ray says:

    Lanier,

    It has been a rich blessing that you have been so present in spirit here this (argh…past!)Christmastide. You have shared very generously this year from your golden season, and I, for one, am grateful and pleased. It has been a special Christmas gift.

    Babette looks utterly charming, sweet, delicate, gracious, feminine in her Christmas attire and as though she is saying, Well-a-day!

    There is more wistfulness in my heart this year about leaving the grace of Christmas behind. The beauty of upcoming Candlemas is a consolation.

    I love your “dust of significance” expression. This year, for the first time, I believe, I realized that my greatest pleasure was not in anything that I did, but in just knowing that, no matter what I was doing, it was Christmastide. The very air is fine, the Presence is near, the heart listens. This must be the closest we ever are to eternity with Him. Surely He is standing right beside us, heart glowing, as we roll out gingerbread! He feels so near in December!

    And an end-of-season luncheon tradition sounds wonderful.

    Kindest blessings, and thank you, again, for opening a Christmas window into your life.
    Josie Ray

  6. Josie Ray says:

    Oh, you sweet heart….the gavel. God bless and keep and comfort you.

  7. Holly says:

    I also noticed the gavel, with a lump in my throat.

    You have come to mind so much in the last 24 hours. I started (and am about to finish) Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book. If you have not read it, I believe you would love it. All about the stories old codices would tell, had they voices.

    Blessings to you and The Mister in this New Year!

  8. Judy says:

    Oh my – Kate Rusby’s ‘Candlemas Eve’ – so beautiful.

    It has been a precious privilege to be invited to walk through the Christmas Season with you – the loveliness of your heart, your words, and your home all shared with such generosity. Thank you, Lanier.

  9. Laura B says:

    My precious friend (you stinker) — that very song “Candlemas Eve” and its haunting words have been on my heart all season. Just when I’d forgotten! For me, it’s a call to face this next year with bravery and grace and to accept that, indeed, times do shift. Sigh.
    BTW, I did bat an eyelash or two when I read about the napkins and votives, but I know it was worth it. All hail to the King!

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