It’s New Years Day and I’m sensing the return of that old familiar feeling: melancholy.
Is it the song? Auld Lang Syne? I know it’s a song about friendships. And I know we always pair it with champagne and confetti and blowing noisemakers. Yay.
But the notes are too somber for me. I’ve never heard a version that didn’t make me cry. Should we be crying on New Years? Is that how we want to start off a new year? Shouldn’t we be dancing? Shake off the old and boogy-ing with the new? Maybe what we need is a song change, something like Black Eyed Peas “I Gotta Feeling.” (I know I’m dating myself with that one but whatever, I stand by it.)
I’m not dancing today. Truth be told I’m a little nervous to pack away the decorations, to box up the sparkle, to unplug the lights. While we shouldn’t rely on things to change our mood, I can’t deny that it was the magic of the season that saved me this year, brought in light when everything got too dark. What happens when it all goes away? What happens when we toss the tree to the curb? Will our hope go along with it?
In many ways after the overwhelm of a festive holiday season full of big sensations, big expectations, and even bigger feelings, I welcome the clean and clear presence that January brings.
But my fear this year is that with all of that minimalism, life might go back to feeling just a little bit too ordinary. It’s hard to make big plans when there is still big uncertainty looming over our new calendar. All I see is a long string of ordinary days ahead for us.
In my Christian faith practice, that is exactly what we call these days in the liturgical church year–the Ordinary Days. What a sad name for the days between Epiphany, the end of the Christmas season, and Lent, the lead up to Easter. Not hopeful and light filled like Advent. Not contemplative and repenting like Lent. Just the Ordinary days.
Or are they?
In further study, I learned “Ordinary” comes from the word “Ordinal” which means to count.
Suddenly Ordinary takes on a whole new meaning.
Perhaps we don’t need to look upon these days in the sad state of doldrums as their name implies. In fact, these ordinary days count. They matter. They are important in the adding up of one day to the next. They count just as much as the brightest days of December. These days filled with ordinary day to day tasks, some fun, some not as much fun, some memorable and some you hope to forget, they all still count in the great story of our life. They still count, even if it isn’t at all what we envisioned our world to be a year ago. They still count, even when it is really hard to hold on to hope.
So in these ordinary days, in the transition from CHRISTMAS!!!!!! to January (whomp whomp), what we need are little ways to keep some of the magic around. Here are five of my favorite magic makers for the beginning of the year. They serve as gentle reminders of how we can continue to find hope in our dark and ordinary days. When we count every day we will see they add up to a whole more than we ever could have dreamed.
Let there be light.
Every article about hygge will tell you to bring light into your home during the dark days of winter. And every article would be correct. Those twinkly lights you draped on your tree? Hang them around your door frames, along your bed frames, on your bookshelves. The light is not just for December. It is for all season long. Do yourself a favor. Connect them to timers or remote switches. Double the joy.
In addition to twinkly lights, I also love adding more candles this time of year. I buy big boxes of white taper candles from Trader Joe’s and run through the boxes like we go through squeezy applesauce. Candle holders are lovely finds at thrift stores but you can also easily whip together one with sugar and a mason jar or juice glass. There is something about candles at the dinner table that invites your children into peace and wonder. It won’t get them to eat their vegetables but it might keep them from whining so much about it.
Go on a night walk.
We are Minnesotans. We know how to handle the cold. We wear multiple layers and we reward with hot chocolate upon our return. And, yes, a daytime walk allows for more warmth, but have you ever tried a night walk? There is something magical about going out just as the sun is setting and lights turn on inside, and outside, of your neighbors’ homes. Bring a flashlight, hunt for creatures, enjoy the Christmas lights from the dear neighbors who keep them out long into winter (probably because it’s too darn cold to remove them now, but we’ll pretend it is because of the desire to add more joy to your life.)
Backyard flashlight play.
Sometimes my kids have the best ideas. Like one crazy early evening when I just could not stand their bouncing bodies all over my couch cushions another moment and kicked them outside at 5:00 PM. I expected whining but instead they grabbed their flashlights and joyfully ran around the yard until I called them in for dinner. The neighbors saw them and thought it was such a brilliant idea they started adding flashlight play to their backyard fun, too. “Light creates more light” is apparently the message here. When in doubt, add more light.
Set the tone.
I have a strict Christmas only content rule in my house in the month of December. What I watch, read, and listen to sets the tone of the season as much as the decorations do. This same celebration can apply with all seasons, not just Christmas. Having books, movies, and music that celebrate winter brings the magic to this time of year. It allows us to find the beauty and joy in a season that might not be as easy to uncover as others.
Studies will tell you that often the anticipation of something can be equally as exciting as the activity itself. I think this is why this past year was so hard for us. How do you anticipate something when so much uncertainty rests ahead? This might be why Christmas was such a joy. It gave us something to anticipate. We need this now more than ever.
In our family, February is a month of many birthdays. It helps to have a celebration in mind as we wander through darker days of January. But you don’t need birthdays or even real holidays to anticipate. Create a new holiday. Add something random on the calendar to count down to. Maybe it’s a special winter activity day with your family that includes lots of sledding, ice skating, and a movie night with one of your winter movies. Maybe you have a big Valentine party with your little family. Maybe you plan a day trip to a winter hike you’ve never explored before. Whatever works for your family, find something to anticipate, create a countdown system, and give yourself a reason to be hopeful.
You don’t have to throw out the hope with the tree. It has a place here, too, woven in between the magic of the Ordinary Days.