We’re all familiar with the classic Christmas poem, “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” It’s all about anticipation of the good things we hope will happen the next morning. We identify with the line “while visions of sugar-plums dance in their heads,” even though we probably don’t know exactly what sugar-plums are.
But what would a poem entitled “‘Twas the Night After Christmas” be about? It would probably describe a feeling of let-down, maybe even depression. When all the presents have been opened and torn wrapping paper is scattered around the room, when the guests have gone home and the dishes still have to be done, and we find we still have an inner emptiness, a sense of incompleteness.
This is probably behind the attempts to make Christmas last in some traditions. England’s “Boxing Day” is a clear example. It’s celebrated on December 26, and it focuses on giving presents outside your immediate family, especially to poor people. The tradition seems to have begun in the Middle Ages and developed with the emerging class system. The landed gentry would celebrate Christmas with their extended families on Christmas Day, waited on by their servants and supplied by local tradespeople. The next day came to be seen as a well-earned day off for the servants to spend with their own families. They would be given a box to take home, containing food, goodies and small gifts, as well as a possible year-end bonus. Also, local store-owners, skilled and unskilled laborers, etc. might receive similar boxes from the estate owners. So December 26, Boxing Day, became the Christmas celebration of the lower classes.
Some traditions have tried to make Christmas last even longer. The “Twelve Days of Christmas” extend from December 25 to Epiphany on the church calendar, January 6. In some localities, the common folk tried to keep their spirits up with festivities throughout this period. Our song of the same name describes daily gift-giving as part of the practice, though it takes some imagination to think about what a person might do with ten “lords a-leaping.” My most memorable Christmas gift to Judy was probably twenty years ago, when I gave her a gigantic box containing twelve smaller gift-wrapped boxes, with instructions to open one each day through January 6. Because I am allergic to shopping, that was the high point of my gift-giving career, and it’s been all downhill since.
What about that first Christmas? Well, Christmas Day was exciting, beginning with the birth of Jesus and ending with shepherds rushing from an encounter with an angelic choir to see the Baby the angels had sung about:
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. (Luke 2:15-18)
That was exciting. But the night after Christmas there were no angels and no shepherd visitors. We read that “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (verse 19). But she didn’t have much time to meditate on deep spiritual truths. The Baby was crying to be fed and changed. And there was still the matter of finding and preparing food for her husband Joseph and herself. She may have been concerned that Joseph seemed quite worried about the implications of the Roman taxation and whether his money would hold out until Mary and the Baby were ready to travel.
For Mary, the night after Christmas was a back-to-reality experience. This is what her life would be like, day after day for the rest of her time on earth. No angels; no choirs; no adoring shepherds. Just human bonding with this special Person God had implanted into her body, her family, her home. She trusted God to provide a meaning for it all.
May we emulate Mary in being satisfied with Christmas and with the modest, nondescript life we’ll return to the day after Christmas.
— Pastor George Van Alstine