As much as I enjoy the season’s glittery chaos, my favorite day of the holidays is the day after Christmas. Even as a child, I preferred December 26th to the main event. I have always loved way the hustle and bustle grinds to a sudden halt, like a bullet train finally pulling into the station after a marathon sprint across the country. Christmas is a blur. The day after Christmas is like coming home and having time to savor the little things.
And then, on the heels of the 26th comes January.
January, even when its days are full, has always brought a wintry quiet that is a welcome counterpoint to December’s spin cycle of joy. Even though most of us resume normal routines after New Year’s Day, January still seems to be a month in repose, its days stretched long and languorous by the absence of holiday tasks.
To the uninitiated, this shift in energy can come as a bit of a shock. Our tendency is to continue barreling forward, fueled by the momentum of the previous months. We become ambitious cleaners and organizers, dive enthusiastically into planning and new projects, try to catch up on old tasks, or get a head start on new ones.
In short, we completely miss the point.
Even in a small town, it’s easy to fall into the trap of hopping right back onto the treadmill. We’ve become used to cruising at 100 mph. It almost feels natural.
But, it’s not.
What’s natural is a moment of respite – hibernation, fallow fields, cats who sleep for hours after a brief but rousing game of chase. We all need time to regroup and revitalize. We need time to do nothing.
The thing is, doing nothing is surprisingly hard. Modern life has knocked us out of sync with our natural rhythms. We may not live in a big city, but the thumping, grinding beat of life in the fast lane seems always just outside the door, even in our little, historic town.
I wonder how the townspeople who inhabited this land three hundred years ago spent their Januarys. I imagine that although winters were hard, they still offered more time for pause and reflection than the more temperate months. The cold and snow of our New England winter would have blurred the edges of the landscape, muffled the sounds of the natural world, and clogged the gears of daily life.
There is nothing left to check today’s always plugged in pace, nothing standing between us and being forever busy. Industrial and digital technologies have tamed January so that we need never slow down. We have machines to clear the snow, chemicals to melt the ice, and electricity to keep us productive all through winter’s dark night. We have invisible connections that tether us to the distractions and obligations of the whole world. Though these modern marvels offer convenience and safety, if we’re not careful they exact their price from our precious moments of solitude and reverie.
Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it.
I don’t want to turn time backwards and face life without the comforts and luxuries of the twenty-first century, but I would like to reclaim January’s gifts for our own. January is about the pause between endings and beginnings. It’s about quiet and the art of letting go. Like the day after Christmas is a day for curling up with new books and leftover treats, January is a month to sink into the stillness of winter and surrender to being instead of doing.
I hope your holidays were full of joy and I wish you a January full of peace.