My brother was born on January 6, Three King’s Day. In many parts of the world Christmas celebrations continue all the way through this date, but in the United States all thoughts of the holiday season have generally been relegated to the past. By a few days into January it’s time to look forward and move on from partying. We Yanks tend to get serious about the work at hand by diving full force into jobs and school work. Nonetheless, since it was a special day for my brother, our household always continued with the revelry in spite of a lack of participation from most of the rest of the folks around us.
I remember my dear mother struggling to find gifts for my brother in stores that looked as though they had been visited by looters. She would encounter empty shelves and even when products were still available they were all too often defective in some way. I suppose that she might have planned ahead by purchasing gifts before Christmas and setting them aside until January 6, but her budget and her personality forced her to prepare for each occasion one step at a time. Thus, she created unique traditions for my brother to make do with whatever she might find. One of her yearly offerings to him was a bag of his favorite cookies, fig Newtons, that he could enjoy without having to share with the rest of us. Somehow with a bit of imagination Mama always managed to make his day as special as he was.
I have never cared much for the dark and often dreary days of January. I find myself missing the decorations and lights of Christmas. By January they are more often drooping and looking out of place, so most folks rush to take them down as soon as possible. After all the work and rushing around to prepare for Christmas we celebrate in one enormous burst and then return quickly to our work and resolutions. January is almost an afterthought in the grand scheme of things. Birthdays and anniversaries in that month are all too often forgotten as people set out on the long journey around the sun one more time.
From the time I was a child I have harbored a love/hate relationship with January because of its association with a return to school and work. I have a sense of dread about going back to the grind after all of the enjoyment of the holidays. It’s a feeling akin to returning to a routine after an especially wonderful vacation. On the one hand I want to stay suspended in an unending fairytale of fun and on the other hand I’m more than ready to return to the day to day realities of living. Even now when I am retired, I find myself feeling a kind of pull and tug of emotions when January rolls around. I am anxious to enjoy the possibilities of what lies ahead, but also cautious about the kind of events that might bring sorrow into my life.
No other month of the year elicits both joy and dread like January which I know is actually rather silly. There is nothing particularly unique about the month. It’s place in the year is simply a random creation from a long ago attempt to organize life with a calendar that marks the passing of seasons. It is simply a demarcation of time that allows us to keep track of how many times our earth has revolved around the sun. That countdown might just as well have begun in the spring or summer or fall. Our reaction to January is nothing more than a learned response to the invented traditions to which we adhere, and yet it has always held the same blend of optimism and anxiety for me.
As a teacher my colleagues and I always looked ahead to the long semester during which we knew that our students would lose their focus and begin to drift away into spasms of spring fever. January began the long haul of the school year, the time when the pencils and book bags and shoes were no longer shiny and new. It took lots of energy and creativity to maintain the interest of our students and sometimes even to motivate ourselves. Once we got back into the groove everything was fine, but summertime and sunshine always seemed to be so far away.
I still cling to my brother’s birthday as the last hurrah of the holiday season. In some ways I have always enjoyed his birthday more than my own, because it has been a way to keep the holiday fires burning a bit longer. I keep my Christmas decorations shining brightly in his honor every year even though he is not at my home. I’ve never fail to attend his birthday party with the exception of last year during the before vaccination times of Covid. His special day is one last opportunity to laugh and feel the warmth of a family gathering before we all put our heads down to the tasks that lie before us. This year we get the added bonus of a baby shower for my nephew and his wife. That will add a bright spot to January that should bring lots of smiles. It will be March before we have another birthday to celebrate but if all goes according to plan the new baby will create another reason to celebrate in February. Then it will be almost spring and we will be looking forward to the times when the sun will shine most of the day, a situation that my body and mind seems to crave. Who knows it may also be the moment when we can finally say goodbye to Covid and begin to rebuild the more normal aspects of our lives with hugs and kisses and love all around.