The day after Christmas has a long history in the western world as a day of strangely battle-weary living for many. All of the wildness and extravagance people can conjure has been devoted to getting to and through the 25th of December, and little thought or energy or resources remain for anything that follows, least of all the day immediately on the heels of the Christmas holiday. That’s okay. Everyone has his or her way of celebrating, or avoiding what they see as the excesses of others’ celebrations, no matter what the holiday and Christmas, with its western prevalence and pervasiveness culturally, has expanded into something astonishingly complicated even for those who have no connection to the origins of Christmas at all.
I have experienced Christmas in a multitude of ways myself. I grew up in the Christmas tradition of church and family, gift-giving and observance intermingling and filling all of the days around the date, but as an adult no longer living in my parents’ home, and especially as the spouse of a professional musician, I have spent many subsequent Christmastides attending concerts and services not in the same place and with the same people, some of the occasions entirely secular and some fastidiously and formally religious, and often have felt myself simultaneously immersed and somewhat removed–an observer of this strange phenomenon that is Christmas in the modern world.
What I feel now also changes and flickers like a candle flame. Part of me is moved and absorbed to the degree that I hardly notice my immersion, and part remains surprised, mortified, mystified and/or delighted at the lengths, depths and heights to which people go in pursuit of their own understanding and expectations of the holidays. As I grow older I am also more aware of the plethora of significant events and holidays meaningful in so many other religions, cultures and personal realms, and these often change my view of the practices related to Christmas in and around my life, too. Even the most hermit-like must be so affected in this day and age, it seems, and that’s not entirely a bad thing. If we live in the context of all of this, we should certainly be conscious of how these differences and nuances and variations inform and even influence our experiences in this life.
All of that aside, one of the least spiritually driven aspects of the winter’s holidays that gives me a certain amount of real pleasure is knowing that on the 26th of December a fairly large percentage of people in the western world are frantically rushing around in the pursuit of shopping exchanges and returns, after-Christmas sale bargains and last-minute, end of the year party preparations, and another portion of the population is collapsed in utter exhaustion from the foregoing revelry–and I am in that most enviable state of being and doing neither of those. Preferring as I do a quieter, less frenetic and far less shopping-oriented way of celebrating important occasions in my life, I find the rebound from them equally reduced in intensity and stress. That, to me, is the gift that does keep on giving.