“The Day After Christmas Blues.” That used to really be a thing in my life.
It was worst when I was a child. After all the days and weeks of giddy anticipation, preparation and decorating, magical evenings in the quiet and glow of Christmas tree lights, imagining the bounty that would be found on Christmas morning…suddenly it was over.
Sometimes it struck as early as Christmas afternoon. After the presents were all opened and gathered, after the best new dress was shown off at Mass, after breakfast that included the Christmas Eve ham, now with eggs and toast as accompaniment, things settled, sadly, down. Oh, there were the calls to friends, yet, to compare gifts. There were new dolls or toys to play with, and to find special places for. There were books to read and games to play. There was the long Christmas holiday away from school still to look forward to. Still, there was a hollow space, where Christmas used to be. The anticipation was over; the waiting was done. The reality was never quite what I had expected it to be.
As a young adult, the anticipation went hand in hand with preparation, and the promise, always, to make this one “the best Christmas ever.” The house would reflect the holidays in decorations, music and good cheer. The food, from cookies for Santa to Christmas morning cinnamon rolls, to casserole contributions to the meals that we attended, was plotted and planned far in advance. The gifts would be perfect, and received with gratitude and joy. I remember many frantic Christmas Eve nights, trying to finish just one more handmade gift, to make the under-tree bounty look just a little richer.
And then Christmas was over. Leaving warm memories, sure, and gifts to enjoy, but over nonetheless. It never quite lived up to my expectations. Maybe gifts weren’t received quite as enthusiastically as I’d anticipated, or my husband drank too much, or someone was cranky. It was always a letdown to some degree. Mostly, because it was over. It was time for the annual day after Christmas blues. Always with thoughts of how next year, it will be better.
Of course, now I know I should have savored every single moment of those Christmases spent among family and loved ones. Loud, boisterous, crazy, everyone-talking-at-once and “look how much those babies have grown” Christmases are the ones I miss now. I fight off tears for weeks before the holidays, with memories of Christmases past.
- My mother, coming home with bags and boxes that would be hidden away in her bedroom. Later, after long wrapping sessions, she’d come out with more and more gifts for under the tree.
- My Dad, recalling his own childhood memories and – like a kid himself – giddily relishing the anticipation and joy of his own children.
- Christmas morning when the gifts were piled high under the tree, and all nine of us dove in to find the ones with our names on them.
- Christmas afternoons with games and puzzles.
- My little family decorating the tree with handmade ornaments, a pot of chicken and stars soup bubbling on the stove.
- My tiny daughters coming down the stairs to be surprised by what Santa left under the tree.
- My brother David, in a Santa hat, generous with hugs and always too loud.
- Sheila putting together the fruit salad, with wide chunks of banana, apples and walnuts in whipped cream.
- Nita, holding and remarking on every single beautiful baby.
- Every one of my sisters and brothers present, with their families, chatting and laughing and helping in Mom’s big kitchen.
I should have appreciated every single person and moment more than I did.
Now, alone, with my children grown and most of my family far away, I approach the Christmas season with caution. I don’t want to fall into depression; I don’t want to be miserable. I try to drum up some Christmas spirit. Usually, that happens about 6PM on Christmas Eve. Then, I think, “Oh, I wish I had a tree up…I wish I’d decorated.” I promise myself that next year, I will, so that when I sit down to watch It’s A Wonderful Life on the night before Christmas, I will be able to sit in the glow of lights from the Christmas tree.
This year, I threw myself into a flurry of last minute baking on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. By the time I left for dinner at Aunt Katie’s, my kitchen was destroyed. My car was laden with two pies: lemon meringue and blackberry, a plate of jam tarts, a dish of butternut squash, a spinach souffle, twenty-four butter horn rolls.and a bowl of cinnamon-sugar stars.
I made phone calls on Christmas morning. First to my friend Linda who, in similar circumstances, I knew would not overwhelm me with Christmas cheer while I was still on my first cup of coffee. Then my daughters, each a joy to talk to, and a quick chat with my sister Brenda, who had a houseful of guests just arriving. I took the dogs for a long walk. I opened many thoughtful gifts. I continued putting things in and taking things out of the oven. I soaked in a hot bath. I went to dinner at Aunt Katie’s, where five of us shared good food and cheer.
And now it’s over! I have to say, these days it’s more of a relief. Having used all my milk and cream in baking, I started right off with a shot of Irish Cream in my coffee. I think I may have a piece of blackberry pie for breakfast. No day after Christmas blues for me! At least not until I decide to tackle the kitchen!