The Day After Christmas Blues

Family Matters on 12.26.12
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Photo: Amanda Freeman

When I was eight years old, I won second place in a holiday drawing contest at a local bank. I got a gift certificate to the mall and a plaque, which my mother claims she still has “somewhere” in the basement. My almost- winning unique view of the holidays was called, “The Day After Christmas is Sad and Gray.” I imagine the winning entry was jollier.

For the contest, I drew the living room on the day after Christmas, tree listing to one side, limbs drooping, the empty rocking chair and the floor littered with scraps of wrapping paper and discarded toys. Instead of using holiday greens and reds, I colored the entire scene with a gray crayon. I wrote to the bank about how much I loved Christmas. Caroling, visiting Santa, searching for a tree, decorating, making lists of gifts to give and receive, baking treats and sending cards, racing home to find out what Christmas special would be on television that night and eating too much food crowded around the dining room table, gifts piled high under the tree, waiting to be torn open.

But this was just the backstory to explain how much I dreaded the days after Christmas when all the excitement gave way to the dark half of the slushy New England winter, so very far from next Christmas. Once, in the middle of unwrapping, I stole away to my room with two unopened presents and hid them in my underwear drawer, to save a few bits of Christmas for the dark days ahead. My mother wanted to know where the hell the gifts had gone.

Now, at 35, I make a conscious effort to enjoy the precious Christmases we have together with family I don’t get to see often during the year. And I savor the kids’ crazed excitement about Santa’s arrival from the planning to the wrapping and the unwrapping and the playing that follows. But while I no longer worry about the after-Christmas letdown beforehand, I still think the days and weeks after Christmas can be a drag. 

The house is suddenly empty of relatives and in need of a cleaning: piles of dishes and dirty sheets, the tree to be disposed of and the needles swept away, the lights and ornaments to be taken down and packed away. I must confront the nightmare of return policies and directions I don’t understand, of depleted bank accounts and the head cold I caught at the holiday party. My husband thinks this point of view is depressing, but I think it just shows how much I love Christmas. And I appreciate that some things stay the same whether you are eight or 35 or 88. For me, the day after Christmas will always be gray.  

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