In our previous/normal lives in Los Angeles, the holiday season starts today for our family. We put on the Christmas music, put up the decorations, and I start pestering Bob to go out and get a tree, which takes a week or two. [Bob's note: If you wanted the tree up on Thanksgiving you should have started pestering me two weeks before Thanksgiving.] Nothing Holiday-ish happens before today. No decorations, no music, no gingerbread... We joke about how all official merriment is forbidden until The Day -- that being the day after Thanksgiving. We stop each other from absentmindedly humming Jingle Bells, and blissfully glide past Christmas isles at the store; noses in the air. Christmas doesn't start until today. Period.
There is also a non negotiable end date for our season. Everything Holiday ends before the new year starts. By New Year's Day all decorations are down, the music is put away, and we don't eat gingerbread or cutout cookies for another year. [Bob's note: I used to sneak post New Year's Christmas cookies at work. The ones all the other editors brought to get out of their houses.] Now that I'm writing this, it sounds a little regimental,[Bob's note: No shit.] but it works for us. [Bob's note: Works for us?] We have an opening day, with anticipation and fanfare, and a new year that feels mentally and physically clear and unfettered by the past. Plus, it's a superstition passed down from my dad.
One of the hardest moments in the year-long "stuff culling" process we went through last year, came after Christmas. We took down the decorations, and instead of putting them all away, put most of them in the Sale pile. It was a melancholy and sentimental job. We filled one small box with our stockings and a handful ornaments with sentimental value; the rest was sold or given away. It was one of our earliest reality checks. Hard but good.
This year, in a cottage in Scotland, we're without even the few ornaments and stockings we saved. We could have them shipped to us, but we've decided not to. Today we'll decorate with garlands we've made from strips of paper cut out of old catalogues, and stars made out of grocery boxes and wrapping paper. We've decided not to get a tree, but on my walk this morning I'll cut some holly that I've staked out on the trail, and try to make something resembling a wreath. This year Vince Guaraldi's Charlie Brown Christmas plays through tiny computer speakers, instead of filling the living room. On Christmas Eve we'll put our slippers in a row for Santa to fill instead of our Christmas stockings. (Ella is very worried about just how much less a slipper can hold.)
Instead of missing our little Christmas box in California, and mourning what we're missing, I'm charmed by what we've created, and there's something like a deep, spacious sigh inside.
Still - we'll miss sharing this season with family - and friends that are family too. There's no make-do for the Monday Night Pot Luck of our homeschool group, or New Years Eve family sleep overs. We won't sit in the yard at sunset, drinking wine, with ribs on the grill (ah - winter in Los Angeles!). There is no way to replace the joy and pathos of parents and siblings and nieces and nephews and aunts and uncles, all together in glorious dysfunctional chaos for a few over-indulging days.
This year will be different, but good.