My mother says, “You get that from me,” when I talk about the way the weeks after Christmas always feel somehow cold and dark to me. The strands of cheerful lights have been packed away, and with their absence, the long nights suddenly become just too many hours without light. The cold that seemed a perfect companion for drinking hot chocolate and listening to songs about snow now just seems like a chore as the kids’ coats must be put on and taken off ten times a day, and the yard is a wasteland of brown grass, a brittle landscape that crunches underfoot in the weak light of these January afternoons.
It always feels like we’ve packed up all the color and the cheer, and we are stuck leaning against cold windowpanes, just watching the naked arms of leafless trees for the first signs of spring. The heater groans and shudders to life, spitting out hot, dry air that sucks the moisture out of everything until our lips begin to shed flakes of dead skin like snakes waiting for rebirth into their new shiny bodies.
My mother says she always feels let down this time of year, too, and I can understand why because we’ve spent that season of Advent waiting for our savior, reliving that first celebrity baby watch, groaning with Mary in waiting, waiting for the appearance of our savior. We sang about angels and held up our candles against the darkness of the long nights. And then we packed away the hand carved nativity sets right along with the Santa figurines and the nutcracker ornaments, the songs of Glory to God in the Highest fading slowly as we are left with an empty spot where the tree used to be and the uncomfortable revelation that we’re still waiting for that peace on earth.
Maybe it’s because I love the Christmas season so much that I always feel a bit let down when it’s over. The house seems suddenly colorless without the garland and the red and green and the sparkling lights.
Maybe this year it feels a little worse because the closing of the year is a time of taking stock, and for us this year, taking stock has meant confronting the realization that our plans to expand the family are, in all likelihood, just not going to pan out.
And maybe it’s because I can’t seem to get myself out of Newton, Connecticut. Most of the time, I don’t follow the news very closely because I have this problem with identifying too strongly with the stories. I have trouble separating myself from the violence and the sadness and the anger. But I could not stop myself from following the story about Sandy Hook, from crying into my hands at the horror of it, from looking at my own first grader and holding him tight against me as if my arms could rip him out of this angry place and transport him somewhere these things don't happen.
Yes, maybe it's because peace on earth feels even farther away this year. Because I am tired of staring out the window, my forehead pressed to the cold glass, waiting for something to sweep away the bleak landscape of life in a broken place.
During the holidays, we get the glossy version of the promise, perhaps. Good little girls and boys get presents, and bad ones get coal. But no one really gets coal, do they? We hang strands of twinkling lights to insulate us against the approach of winter, and we wrap the flimsy, plastic objects of our affection in shiny paper to camouflage the truth of their disposable nature. We follow the first celebrity baby watch, getting wrapped up in the gifts he's going to receive and the important visitors he's going to entertain. We forget that once the baby comes, we are right back to waiting. Waiting for him to crawl, to speak, to walk, to grow into his intended role.
I suppose it seemed suddenly dark in Bethlehem, too, once the light of the angels faded from the sky.
And so I am here, in the part of the year that suddenly seems cold and dark. I watch out my window for signs of green growth on the bare arms of the Crepe Myrtle trees in the backyard, for the daylight hours to begin to linger, stretching the day longer and longer. In truth, we have passed the winter solstice, and now the winter's defeat begins, inch by tedious inch. Soon, unseen life will begin to pulse in knots of thirsty roots beneath the dirt of our dreary yard. Soon, the heater will have a much needed break from coughing itself into action and will start to think ahead to its long hibernation.
Meanwhile we'll still be waiting, wandering with eyes upturned, shocked awake with every reminder that there's no peace on earth, not yet, but still watching for it. Still expecting the promise. Hopeful even in our devastation. Like the bare arms of trees just waiting to bloom, rattled by the bitter January wind but not broken. Bent and stripped and weary, but with our arms stretched high, reaching for the sun, bent but never broken.