There’s a memorable line from an unmemorable book, Ramona Forever, that I think of this time every year. Ramona’s aunt, I think, has just gotten married, and life for the rest of the family has marched on after the reception is over. “Everybody felt let down, like the day after Christmas,” the narrator says. As a kid, I always knew exactly what that meant. Christmas was that one shining day that held all the anticipation and promise of gifts and surprises and magic and love. The day after? Kind of sad, with a quiet melancholy.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve thankfully learned to appreciate the days between Christmas and New Year’s, and in truth, the full twelve days of Christmas. Part of this is experiencing the miracle of childbirth personally and realizing the depth and breadth of moments with a newborn. Yes, the birthday of a child is awesome and priceless. But the days after are, too, for countless small reasons.
After the births of the first several of our children, a nurse at the hospital would give me a paper sheet—it was always blue—that numbered the first ten days to two weeks after Baby’s birth. It listed feeding times and numbers, and diaper changes and types, that we needed to meticulously record to make sure Baby was growing and progressing as a new baby should. I would carefully record, with pen and ink—how quaint that seems!—everything on that sheet that happened in those first days. And inevitably, by about Day 12, I would forget to record a feeding or diaper change. By then, we would be falling into routines. What had been new and daunting, and in need of meticulous attention, was now comfortingly familiar.
And so I think this third day of Christmas. Our children are learning customs of the season, many devout, others entertaining. One I enjoy is unpacking small Nativity scenes on Christmas Eve with them and letting them display them in their bedrooms. This year, I let our oldest daughter, who is seven, set up one I received from my godmother when I was about her age. My mother left a note inside the box when I married, explaining where I got the set and how she enjoyed watching me meticulously arrange it every year. She also wrote how she prayed that our marriage would be centered in Christ. Such a small note, and such a small act—unwrapping a porcelain, childlike Joseph and Mary, shepherd and sheep, Wise Men and animals. And a baby Jesus. God who could fit in the palm of my hand. And now the little figure fits in my daughter’s hand.
I suppose the comfort of habit and repetition comes in part from their smallness: the methodical, the routine, the pattern of the everyday that recedes from our active, thoughtful practice to that of work that has seeped down to our pores—the kinds of things we do automatically. Rocking. Feeding. Changing. Humming. All of a sudden, it seems, what was first new and unfamiliar is now beloved and close.
We need the spectacular, it is true—the angels in glory chorusing brilliantly in a midnight sky, the star among millions shining for one Child. But He knew we also needed the regular and familiar. Water and word. Body and blood. Quiet moments after earth-shattering ones. A hand, a creased and lined warm hand, with eternal love in its palm.