Welcome to the holiday badlands, the barren calendar-scape of nonstop, work-a-day weeks and stark chilly nights with no fanciful decorations, no caroling and no joy to the world as far as the eye can see.
Yes, I'm grumpy because there aren't any major breaks for months to come except for Martin Luther King Day, which is a great day and all, but you're supposed to celebrate it by doing stuff like rummaging through shoreline slime to pluck out discarded Cheetos bags and old batteries that seep caustic bubbles of potassium hydroxide, which, you have to admit, is less than festive. Can I at least have a nice cup of cocoa and marshmallows while I'm doing it?
It's definitely rough coming off the trifecta of popular, big-name, life-affirming holidays -- a fourfecta if you count Halloween, and I do, although it's more death-affirming, but in the most delightful way. And now we're now in that weird stage where most of us are back to work, though not all. Some are still meandering around in eggnog-induced comas, trying their darnedest to spend the Williams-Sonoma gift cards they got in their stockings, but finding this to be a challenge because most humans don't actually need herb snips, specialty banana slicers or $89 wheatgrass juicers.
Others still cling to the warmth and charm of the now-past sentimental season. A friend told me she was listening to Christmas music on Dec. 27 but was chastised by her family. "So it's OK to listen to Christmas music for weeks and weeks before but not two days after? That's quite a double standard," she noted.
Bursting the bubble
Indeed, even as the giant inflatable snowman on the lawn down the street from my house continues to rise up each night -- his mouth expanding into an eerie but festive smile not unlike that of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man -- he is bedeviled by the barrage of Valentine merchandise that hit the shelves at CVS long before the holiday ham went cold, not to mention all the boxes of Christmas cards and "Sock Monkey Rescue Kits" at Barnes & Noble now piled up in the 50-percent-off bin over by the escalator, discarded like so many bubbling batteries in the sand.
Can't there be a better transition from the holiday bubble and its suspended animation of merriment back to the harsh reality of everyday life? Maybe some sort of colorful, in-between decorations? Maybe pink? Or yellow with green polka dots? Otherwise it's a soul-sucking shock to the system, like getting stuck on the Peter Pan ride at Disneyland and having the emergency lights come on and everybody's helped down from their magical flying pirate ships on step ladders, going from a starry night over Neverland to a world of wires, overhead tracks and shattered childhood dreams ... not that such a thing could really happen.
Good old days
For me, this time of year brings memories of other childhood trauma, when the beginning of a new year didn't mean fresh starts and organized closets, but the end of two glorious weeks of freedom and the onset of excruciating months of homework. We had no MLK Day then, and of course no day off for Valentine's Day, just an embarrassment of riches for the popular kids and sad, empty, heart-shaped, construction-paper boxes for everyone else. And I don't think we had time off for Washington's or Lincoln's birthdays, either. It wasn't the combined Presidents Day like it is now, celebrated with a three-day weekend and spectacular mattress sales.
No, back then winter meant embarking on a long and perilous road, like the one the humble hobbit took heading through the Mirkwood to the Lonely Mountain. Sure, there's gold to be had at the end (summer vacation) and maybe a refreshing stop along the way in Rivendell (spring break, nee Easter vacation), but in the meantime it's all about rough terrain, bad lunches and endless encounters with mean-tempered goblins (evil Mrs. Snodgrass in third-period science class).
I know, I know; I should let go. That's long past. It is a new year after all, fresh and bright and shiny and, if I want it to be, every day can be a holiday. For instance, according to HolidayInsights.com, Jan. 10 is Houseplant Appreciation Day. My ficus will thank me. And Jan. 25 is Opposite Day (Yes it is! No it's not!). I'm not sure how to celebrate that one. I might try being the opposite of grumpy. But there are no guarantees.