Thursday, January 5: A dingy day, a dull gray that just won’t lift. To break the gloom I go into the living room to plug in the lights on the Christmas tree and into the dining room to plug in the lights that lace through the pine roping draped over the hutch. Only two more days (and counting) that the lights will be up, so might as well take advantage of it. The first floor comes to life, and I take a couple minutes to count up all the things that “had to be done” to create the holidays…
...starting the day after Thanksgiving with making the Christmas pudding with 17 ingredients. Then December is upon us. We get 120 copies of our Christmas photo to go into the cards that I don’t get around to sending until December 20. I spend 60 minutes at the computer ordering food gifts from Williams-Sonoma for four families. (It takes so long because I can never remember my “log in credentials” from one year to the next and can’t use Express Check-out and have to recreate the recipient list all over again.) Off to Wedgewood Nurseries for two large poinsettias for the front windows, eight small poinsettias for the dining room table and two mantels, and three wreaths. On the way back, pick up more boxes of 100-bulb strands of Christmas lights since the August hurricane flooded the basement and we lost some decorations. A week later we pick out the tree. It goes up for seven days without decorating so that the cats can get acclimated to it. Annie gets home and we decorate the tree – an exercise that takes hours in itself: in fact, the 2½ hours of Handel’s Messiah, all three parts. Part I is devoted to the lights; Part II to determining the correct placement of the 30-year-old strands of gold beads and musical notes and clef signs (“Hallelujah”); and Part III to the glass ornaments, cardboard cutouts of the kings and queens of England, miniature scrolls with scores of carols, and any sparkling non-breakable balls to fill in the empty spaces. (Jay tops off the tree with our angel when he arrives home for Christmas weekend.) Handel winds things up with “Worthy is the Lamb” and we plunk down on the couch with glasses of wine to admire our handiwork. Worthy is the tree.
Then the three traditional holiday dinners. On December 18 it’s Chicken Marbella for 12 for our former neighbors. On December 23 Boeuf Bourguignon for 12 for a longstanding group of friends and family. On December 25 roast goose and Brussels sprouts for the four of us.
I’ve made myself cranky again by thinking of all the hours spent on all of the above, and I go back up to my office to get in a better mood.
Friday, January 6: But we’re not done yet. It’s Twelfth Night and I am off to fetch the galette des Roi – Kings’ Cake. We are not French or even of French extraction. Nor do we observe Epiphany in any liturgical way. But when Jay and Annie were little they had a babysitter from France who introduced us to the puff pastry with almond paste and to the tradition of the little plastic trinket embedded in the cake. Whoever gets the piece with the trinket gets to wear the cardboard crown that comes in the box! So of course that became one more item that “had to be done” as part of the holidays. In contrast to yesterday, today is beautiful, a lovely day for the 20-minute drive to the authentic French pastry shop where I plunk down $17.00 for an eight-inch cake. During the drive, my mind frets over the things that we had left undone this year. We ran out of time for Annie to visit her childhood piano teacher. I baked only two batches of chocolate chip cookies, never getting around to a batch of peanut butter cookies. And I completely forgot about making the hot buttered wine. I guess the list could have been worse.
Saturday, January 7: Two more things that have to be done. The easy one is baking a pan of monkeybread to snack on while we do the hard one: “un-decorating” the house. Start time is 2:30. For this chore we need some hard, thumping music to keep us moving and our tradition is the soundtrack of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Starlight Express.” We turn up the volume to 11 and away we go. Off come the outdoor lights; down come the wreaths; out go the small poinsettias to the compost. The Dickensian figures get packed in plastic boxes for the attic; the fake pine roping entwined through the bannister spindles gets jammed into a big plastic bag for the basement. And the tree? The cats have already helped us by knocking ornaments off the lowest 18 inches. Off comes everything else in the opposite order of the decorating. (We discover that Good Queen Bess is missing in action.) Annie and I pack up the empty liquor boxes with all the strings of lights. Jon drags the tree out to the curb. We do a quick sweep of the dry needles. “Starlight Express” has seen the light at the end of the tunnel and the hall clock chimes 4:00.
90 minutes. 90 minutes to undo how many hours of work? Two hours later we wave good-bye to Annie as she walks off to the commuter rail station on her way into Philadelphia for a friend’s birthday party. She’ll go back to school straight from there on Sunday.
Sunday, January 8: The only traces of the holidays are the two big poinsettias in the front windows. They are still in such good shape I didn’t have the heart to chuck them onto the compost pile. The house is quiet. The old year is over.
Happy New Year.