I remember growing up that every year I would wake up on the morning of December 26 and see that the neighbors next door had their Christmas tree lying next to the trashcan. I suppose by the time the festivities of Christmas Day had wrapped up they were so tired of the holiday season that they had to rush the tree outside either that night or early the next morning lest its smell pollute the house like old fish.
I can't say I ever really understood that.
Maybe it was because my family's Christmases were always so joyous and we enjoyed stretching them out so much. Maybe too it was the rhythm of the church year I grew up anticipating, in which the decorations at church never came down until after Epiphany. Those who know me well know that I love the Twelve Days of Christmas and have, for years, made it a point to commemorate them in some way. I love that time right after Christmas Day and before Epiphany — a time in which we can sit back and reflect on the awe and joy of a season too easily lost in the hubbub.
To an extent, if you actually observe the Twelve Days, you become something of an anomaly — by Twelfth Night, there are but a lonely few houses around that still have Christmas lights on them. The rest have been snuffed out with only the worst of weather serving to encourage most people to linger a bit longer.
At times, I wonder what drives the anxiousness to take down lights. Maybe pop radio's incessant loop of less-than-delightful Christmas music sours people on the sounds of the season. Maybe people have seen just a bit too much of a jolly man in a red suit. But, isn't it odd that as we trudge through the cold, thick darkness of January that we race to make it darker?
In late December, there's something blissfully magical about the darkness. The twinkling lights from thousands of houses — the rich boughs of evergreen lit with white lights, the bright inflatables, the joyful nativity scenes — turn the dark nights into a canvas of delightful memories. On those times there's snowfall, it is all the more beautiful as little lights peak through the fresh carpet of white. For a second, the darkness is an asset for the exposition of light.
But, in January… In January, it is just dark. For so many years, I've stared out the back window and watched night after night as the world shrunk back a little more as yet another neighbor snuffed out the lights for another year. In the bleak midwinter, to borrow from Rosetti, a beautiful, fresh snowfall at night is all but invisible, having lost the stage lighting it would have shone in a few weeks prior.
(How ironic too that with the lights, the snowmen decorations too disappear, just before the real snow people start to emerge in a place like St. Louis.)
The other day, as I walked into my office and saw the Christmas dÃ©cor coming down, I remarked to the student working behind the welcome desk that we really need a holiday in January that includes decorating with lights. How wonderful it would be if that gulf of time between Christmas and the spring-before-spring-comes flowers of Valentine's Day were marked with twinkling little lights. Lights like snow.
Like the snow and ice falling tonight.