I admit it. I’m one of those people who cling to Christmas much longer than most would find seemly. Twelfth night has now passed, and the tree still occupies a large portion of the living room. There are candles everywhere, and a St. Nickolaus incense burner graces the shelf in the bathroom. We have re-boxed the Christmas china, and later this afternoon I plan to pull the twinkle lights out of the Camellia bushes, but these are minor concessions. We don’t want to chip the china, and I was never all that sold on the twinkle lights anyway.
No, we are arguably a family of Yuletide malingerers. As justification, I could point to the fact that all of the time spent staging the Christmas Revels means that we get a late start on the home and hearth part of the season. We are entitled to extra time on the far end, but there still should be some sort of limit.
Maybe we wait until the tree starts dropping needles. But I’d have to stop watering it to make that happen. We could allow ourselves to be motivated by the embarrassment we suffer when parents of the boys’ schoolmates stop by for post-play date pickups and cock a judgmental eyebrow at our festive décor. Nah, far easier to make the adults wait on the porch and just shove the urchins out through a barely cracked door. There’s really only one solution: ultimately, it will be Valentine’s Day and I guess we’ll have to clear room for those decorations. With Easter soon to follow, the exchange of storage boxes will inevitably have to take place. We operate on a long seasonal time frame around here.
But there’s more to this than simple attachment to the bric-a-brac of holiday decorations. In addition to leaving the Christmas season behind, I feel a strong ambivalence about entering a New Year as well. It’s not just the confusion around writing new numbers on checks and documents. After spending twelve months getting used to defining my place in time with the numerology of the old year, the prospect of a new and unfamiliar number is disquieting. And yet, the year must turn.
I have a strong and abiding mental image of this. Many calendars portray the year as a wheel or mandala. Not a circle, but a wheel. The distinction is that wheels are made to roll and carry forward from one place to another. I have always pictured the year just this way, and in my mind’s eye I locate the various seasons around the wheel’s rim. As I face the wheel, I see autumn on my right, spring on my left and summer at the bottom. The Yule season I imagine at the very top. And all of this is in motion – it’s a wheel, remember, not a circle. So while I am migrating along the rim from month to month, the wheel itself is rolling forward in time. It’s a bit like walking forward on a spinning carousel.
To carry the amusement park metaphor a bit further, tilt the carousel on its side and you have a Ferris wheel. My experience of entering the new year is akin to riding in the seat that has just reached the very top. As it crests and is about to plummet along the descending arc, there is a moment that somehow stands apart from time. It is neither ascending nor descending. It belongs to neither where we’ve come from nor where we are going. It is weightless and indeterminate. But it is not stillness; rather it is motion without source or destination.
It is in this protracted stretch of the present moment that we experience what Milan Kundera calls, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”. We have let go of the old year and not yet grasped the new one. But then time reasserts its gravitational attraction. We can see the future rising to meet us as we begin the fall to meet it, but the features are indistinct. Only gradually will they come into focus and slowly but surely the new landscape will assume all the familiarity of the one we just left.
Meanwhile, I will with slow reluctance put away the things of the season. I’m sure that as the density of day to day life builds in, I will adapt. One day soon, something will happen. I’ll date a document or plan a meeting, and I will notice that I consider myself a full-fledged citizen of the new year. But not just yet.
- David Parr, Artistic Director