I prefer winter and Fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape — the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.
At this point, the majority of us are well aware that our Lord Jesus Christ’s birthday was not actually December 25th. And yet, that is where tradition continues to plant the western world’s most illustrious holiday. (Due to, you know, solstices and things of this nature.)
Those of us in flyover states, and generally anywhere but Florida and California, are also quite aware that weather-wise December is not the cheeriest month of the calendar year.
In fact, it’s often the bleakest.
And so we dream of White Christmases, because we know that if it’s not white and fluffy outside, it will most likely be grey and depressing. Without the spectacle that is the Christmas holiday season taking up most of our attention — and with seasonal affective disorder in full swing, December would be an undeniable downer of a month.
I love this about Christmas. I love that it’s plumb smack in the middle of the drabbest month of the year. It’s not quite orange and Indian Summer-y like the months preceding it, and it’s not yet cold and crystalline like the upcoming dead of winter. It’s literally half-autumn and half-winter. It’s muddy, stark and matted.
At this point I could draw a parallel between the eponymous holiday and the act of the Son of God himself coming down into our grey, dreary existence and bringing pure, white heaven to earth some 2,000 years ago. But that analogy has been made time and again already. So I’m going to hang back on the dreariness for just a bit.
I’m a day-before-Christmas kind of guy. I love the build-up to the actual day-of. The anticipation and the mystery of the season. I love the wonder. There’s this palpable quality to it that we try to put into words, but just can’t.
Like in all our gloomy Christmas songs. What other joyous holiday do you know of that has so many songs written about it in minor keys? I made a mixtape/CD/playlist of some of my favorites a few years back and it’s become the highlight of my annual Christmas music experience, when I actually let myself listen to Christmas music, that is (usually after December 1st, plus or minus a week).
There’s a lot of Sufjan on there, naturally, but there’s also a few renditions that some friends have recorded. And it perfectly captures the greyest qualities of Christmas that I enjoy.
Growing up in Ohio also helped bake plenty of dreariness in to the holiday for me. Grey is practically Ohio’s state color (along with scarlet, of course). My wife makes fun of me, but when we go home to visit over Christmas, I like to just drive around a while and take it all in. I miss the inherent malaise. It’s nostalgic and melancholic all at the same time.
And then we finally arrive at the day of Christmas itself, which comes first bright and gleaming. But then it slowly cedes back to grey as well. The anticipation soon follows. The tree is laid bare, the gifts are opened, and everyone’s back to their phones. The wonder is gone, the mystery is over, and the doldrums set back in.
For the last 10–15 years or so, some good old friends — who have mostly all left our small Ohio home towns — reconvene back in the creaky apartment above the garage that used to be our regular hangout. We call it our Post-Holiday Blah’s Party. We catch up on weddings, children, and divorces. We reminisce. And we do our damnedest to fight off those blah’s.
It’s one more soiree to keep us going. One more festivity to look forward to. One more thing to keep our minds off the mid-winter dreck we’re about to re-enter.
There’s something glorious about this time of year that we all seem to nod and acknowledge in one way or another. The giving, the magic, the love shared amongst next of kin. The calm. There’s some great joy that’s waiting to burst forth in this season of dearth. It’s trapped and we’re doing our best to claw at it and prod it out into the light.
We see just enough of it every year that it keeps us merry. Festive. Full of hope.
But it only comes in hints and whispers. And so we strive. And wonder. And keep the mystery alive for another season.
And all within this beautifully miserable shade of grey.