All my life, I’ve had protection against post-holiday blues. My birthday is two weeks after Christmas. As a little girl, there was no let-down, no pining for gifts I wanted but didn’t receive. There was only: My Birthday! A brand-new celebration was right around the corner. This year, I’ll celebrate my 39th birthday. Really. Thirty-nine.
I’ve discovered that women don’t talk about birthdays after 35. And I rarely see them admit post-35 birthdays in print. I made a promise 14 years ago that I would never complain about bad hair days or birthdays. Fourteen years ago, I had cancer and I was bald and just grateful to be alive. However, I am struggling a little bit to tap into the old, familiar birthday strategy for defeating post-holiday let-down. Frankly, 39 isn’t all that exciting. And it feels a bit like the end of an era. So, now I’m looking at post-Christmas through the same lens as the rest of the world.
My husband always laments the boxing of Christmas decorations. Secretly, I kind of like it. I’m ready to clear some of the clutter and retreat to the relative calm of ordinary time. This year, I find myself replacing Christmas decorations with new embellishments to be appreciated every day. Apparently, the domestic creativity so long subdued by babes-in-arms and sleepless nights is awakened by the fact that 39 is looming around the corner and the idea that I am finally a grown-up and this is my house to decorate in my style. I think I might finally be awake enough to have a style.
Ironically, my style must peek out from the fixtures of my childhood. When my mother moved to Florida last summer, she graciously offered for me to come over and choose a piece of furniture or two that I might like to have in my own home. Since my own home was furnished in “early newlywed,” embellished by effects of joyful (read: rowdy) children, I left with a truckful. I literally moved pretty much every stick of furniture my mother owned into my own home. And it looks pretty good here.
Someone once told me that a house isn’t a home until you’ve celebrated Christmas there. Well, furniture isn’t your own until you’ve draped it with your Christmas decorations and used it for your feasts. We had six major parties from Thanksgiving to New Year's; this furniture is mine.
And as the brightness of Christmas is stripped from my surroundings, I’m appreciating it for what it was and for what it is. There is something comforting about a secretary that stood in my mother’s kitchen as far back as I can remember. It was the first substantial piece of furniture she purchased. I took it home, draped the scarred top of it with a pretty linen and filled it with my stoneware collection. I have no room in my kitchen, so it stands in my foyer, welcoming visitors with an air that is very much my own. I was determined to receive the living room and dining room furniture with gratefulness and with openness. If someone had given me freedom to choose any furniture I wanted, I wouldn’t have chosen this, but it is very nice furniture in impeccable, nearly new condition. It was a blessing to receive it. It won’t remain in nearly new condition for very long. The first official use of the dining room table was a tea party for six little girls. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that table smile so widely.
After the gentle introduction to our family that the tea party provided, there was a family party followed by a grown-up dinner party for my husband’s 40th birthday; a superhero party for Nicholas’s fourth birthday; three separate Christmas dinners; and a neighborhood New Year’s Eve casino night with more children than I could count. I heard the furniture sigh when the holiday decorations were swept into boxes.
The day after the tree came down, I found Stephen, early one morning, wrapped in a thick woolen afghan knitted by his great-grandmother. The blanket bears the unmistakable smell of my mother’s house. It is blue and blends into the décor of ordinary time. I lifted him onto my lap, afghan and all, and inhaled the memories. I am so grateful that life revolves around the liturgical year. Joyous times of feasting are followed by the familiarity and routine of ordinary time and then the self-examination and introspection of fasting. Life has a rhythm and, over time, that rhythm is evidenced in our surroundings. Holding Stephen, savoring this very short time left in my life when my children are still little enough to sit on my lap, I wonder what this furniture will know when, someday, it leaves my house, and how it will continue to bless another generation.
Elizabeth Foss is a freelance writer from northern Virginia. Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home by Elizabeth Foss can be purchased at www.4reallearning.com.
(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)