Kage Baker always shut down as far as she could for the days between Christmas and New Year’s.
She felt that that week should be a buffer, a waiting period, a comfortable domestic hermitage. The jobs we held while we lived on the Central Coast of California – an area still largely rural and determinedly touristy – always shut down for at least that week; sometimes two. We lived off Christmas leftovers, Christmas candy, Christmas bonuses and Kage’s writing. We stayed at home and did as little as possible, in a happy torpor.
FYI, the Aztecs observed a five-day empty period at the end of their annual calendrical cycle. It had a formal name, accepted customs, enormous symbolic weight: the Aztecs were very into even numbers, and the partitioning of those five days was necessary to make the year come out even. However, they didn’t like it and so declared the entire dead days period to be bad luck – they stayed home and did as little as possible, in a quiet dread of something horrible happening.
When I told Kage about that, she was very interested and found it logical; except the existential terror part. She felt the Aztecs were taking it too far in that. If you want to read about it, Dear Readers, and decide for yourself if you want to spend the final week of the year in either happy lassitude or paranoid suspicion, check out the link below. The Wikipedia entry should give you a start for research.
As the result of doing as little possible this week, I have therefore not posted many blogs. Sorry, Dear Readers: the holiday season this year is a vast expanse of alarm, worry, despair and exhaustion. My family is holding on hard to home and hearth, and hoping we will survive until the horological rhythm of the world renews itself and starts over. Let’s face it – we all ran out of interest in the year 2020 around the time the first earthquake hit Puerto Rico … things never improved much after that.
Now a third of a million Americans are head, hundreds of thousands more are sick, the economy is collapsing, continent-wide storms have begun and hospitals are staring at a shortage of beds, staff, supplies, and even oxygen. The parasite in the White House did leave, but there is no guarantee he will stay gone; and I don’t think anyone has any more plan for keeping him out than they had for getting him out in the first place. There will be no crowds in Times Square. There will be no Rose Parade in Pasadena. There will be countless careless New Year’s Eve parties, which will flood into the overburdened health system around the feast day of our Lady of the Poor. Fun times, eh?
Nonetheless, many of us have managed good Christmases. Lots of people came to a new realization of just how important it was to be with their friends and family. We have renewed hope, what with multiple effective COVID vaccines making their (too slow, but better than nothing) way to the public; we are hesitantly hoping for better times when the new President takes office on January 20th. Weird as it has been, this at least has not been the year without a Christmas.
My family has been clinging to one another and enjoying sweeties while binge-watching Dr. Who on BBC America. Everyone got at least one nice present; the annual prime rib with Yorkshire pudding was divine, and there will be equally time-hallowed ham and Hoppin’ John for New Years.
Personally, I’ve gotten permission from my pulmonologist to have my ENT take out my tracheotomy tube soon. I cannot express the deep craving with which I look forward to life without a plastic tube in my neck. I shall probably need supplemental oxygen for a time, but I now have a lovely oxygen accumulator instead of nasty tanks. The accumulator is the size of a large lunchbox and extracts oxygen from the ambient atmosphere for my use: unbelievably keen. Just before I made the switch, I made in incautious tango turn around my oxygen caddy, and fell on my face – miraculously, I broke no bones, did not hit my head, and am merely stiff from strained muscles and dignity. But I have new hope.
These may be the empty days, Dear Readers, but they are not back luck, nor a prelude to disaster. They don’t have to be, any way. We are still on our feet, and around all of us are loved ones to help us stand just little longer. We have passed the Winter Solstice and are falling into the light once more. We can tentatively take this as a quiet time, to rest up and recover some strength.
And eat Christmas sweeties. Even the best chocolate doesn’t keep forever.
I used to save my vacation days so I could take off the week between Christmas and New Year’s. The practical reason was that schools were closed and I needed to be home for my kid–but I still did it after he grew older. I loved that quiet week of reading the books I got for Christmas and at least one trip out to the movies. When, in later years, I ran out of vacation days early and had to go into the office, it felt unlike itself–hushed, unhurried, underpopulated–like offices in the pandemic, perhaps? (Fortunately, I’m retired now, and office-free.)
DJ and I admitted that this Christmas felt awkward, and a little forced, somehow, as we tried to make it at “merry” as possible- but the sadness and deprivation kept breaking through. Not material deprivation, but rather the experience of being deprived of friends, family and activities we ordinarily do. Focusing on what we do have: life, each other, freedom from material want, relatively good health- focusing, gratefully, on these things helps, a lot, but the sadness creeps in, anyway. Asi es la vida. Carry on.
Buff – it’s hard, so hard, to even reach some internal peace this year: let alone joy. For me,that is one of the best parts of the empty days – quiet in which to reset my emotions. There IS good stuff happening, but it keeps getting drowned out by the constant cacophony of despair. All one can do is one’s best. Wait for some of the noise and chaos to die down,and then sing a hymn.