We start seeing holiday decorations and gift sales in September, and hearing holiday music before Halloween. It’s no wonder that by Christmas day, with its overload of gifts, holiday-themed, bad TV movies, drinking, relatives, and Jingle Bell Rock, we’re done with it already.
But what if we thought about the holiday season a different way?
Lately, I’ve been reading about Christmas traditions in other countries, and there are many charming ways to continue Christmas in a delightful and stress-free way for weeks to come. The Christian church has three seasons related to Christmas: Advent, which starts at the beginning of December, Christmas itself, and Epiphany, which follows Christmas. Different Christmas carols are sung at each of these different seasons. And rather than spoiling our lovely autumn with frenzied prep for Christmas day, wouldn’t it be nicer to savor Christmas through January, when we really need it?
I don’t play Christmas music at home or at work until after Thanksgiving, and no Christmas decorating is done until after that time. Waiting to shop, wrap, decorate and bake creates anticipation, an important part of pleasure. I don’t rush to remove all decorations the day after Christmas, although the tree usually bites the dust fairly soon after Christmas day because we get a real tree and it gets dry. I don’t spend an entire precious weekend boxing up the decorations in one mad rush. And I don’t stop enjoying Christmas goodies, or giving Christmas gifts. Heaven knows I don’t send out cards until after Christmas, and have been known to just put heart stickers on the envelopes and send them out as Valentines, if they get sent at all. I continue to play my Christmas music on the piano and my Ipod through January. Think what this unhurried approach does for your mood. No awful deadline of 12/25 to meet. No over-stuffing yourself on treats because you have promised to eschew every good thing as soon as the New Year rolls around. Decorating and undecorating the house become gradual processes, directed by your whims, and by what is still pretty and what is looking tired. Parties and dinners continue through the dark days of January, when we only have about 6-8 hours of daylight, and need a little fun. Some concerts and productions of the Nutcracker continue after Christmas day, and tickets are much easier to get.
Here are some other ideas:
Twelfth Night: This is celebrated in England and France with a party, where wassail is served and a cake with a bean baked into it is eaten. The finder of the bean is the King of the feast. In some places, the King is responsible for the next week’s party, until Mardi Gras, when the fun stops dead. In other traditions, the wreath and all edible decorations are taken down and eaten (the edible decorations, not the wreath).
Julgransplundring: This is another undecorating tradition in Scandinavia. I’m biased. I think Scandinavia has the cutest, coziest Christmas traditions and the best cookies. They have to, they have even less daylight than we do in the Upper Midwest. This is a tree-robbing party. Treats are hidden in the tree, kids go looking for them, some dancing is done, supper is served and the gingerbread houses are smashed and eaten. As the tree is plundered, decorations are removed and the the tree is then burned in a bonfire, city ordinances permitting. This party is in January, and is a nice end to the Christmas season. It is a good idea to remove your more fragile decorations before the party. http://scandinavianchristmas.blogspot.com/2012/12/cute-looters.html
The Greeks fast during Advent to prepare for the birth of Jesus and the celebratory feast. What a great way to avoid that Christmas pound! Our Greek friends had a party in February where everyone in the neighborhood brought their old tree to burn and kick off Mardi Gras.
Mexicans have a version of the King cake with a baby figurine baked inside. This cake is called the Rosca and each person cuts his own slice. The knife symbolizes the danger that Jesus was in from King Herod, and the baby, of course is Jesus. The one who gets the baby in his slice hosts a party on February 2 at which the Nativity scene is put away and tamales and hot chocolate are served.
Three Kings Day is celebrated January 6. Hey, that’s today! Huffington Post has a great slide show of fun ideas to celebrate this day.
We have a made up holiday in our house called a snowflake party. This is done on a weekend in January and involves cookie baking and eating, hot chocolate, and making paper snowflakes to decorate our house. It is done very last minute, lasts for a couple of hours, and entertains the neighbor kids as well as your own. Playing in the snow outside can be added to this, weather permitting. But this is a great idea for a blustery evil day with double digit windchill.
These are just some ways to spark your thinking. What do you wish you had more time for during the holidays? What necessary task could use a little fun injection? Make something up to suit your needs. And find a way to get through January that doesn’t involve dieting and cleaning. Really, at the darkest time of year, could we find a drearier way to spend it? A simple celebration is a wonderful antidepressant. And soon enough, there is Mardi Gras.