Well, the holidays are over - today is Three Kings' or Epiphany. It is the day that we take down our decorations and officially bring the Christmas season to a close in our family.
My sons are now 12 and 14 - somehow, even more so than last Christmas, their "advanced years" have made a real change in how we celebrate the Advent - Christmas times. I didn't put out a Nativity tableau this year for one - in past years we'd start with the first week of Advent, with the Mineral Kingdom. On a corner table I'd place our dark blue cloth and carefully arrange a few select crystals and rocks. There's be only one of the four red candles on our Advent wreath lit. The following week the Plant Kingdom would join us - that was the week that we'd hang a wreath on our door and two candles would be lit on our indoor wreath.
By week three - especially if week four was going to be a very short week - things would really start happening - the animals would have joined the Nativity scene, three candles would have been lit and mysterious whisperings and package -rustling's would be heard from time to time. We'd start planning where the Christmas tree would go this year and all the cookies and cards and other preparations would be made during this week.
A few days before Christmas Eve the tree would come. Most years it came from our property - one memorable year it came from a nearby prairie restoration site near our house where pine trees are regarded as invasive. That year the tree was chopped, placed on a sled and dragged home over the snow and ice! Each year our tree sits for a day or two unadorned - then we have a very elaborate ritual on Tree Decorating Night involving music, and a very precise order of how the ornaments are placed on the tree. Over the next couple of days the presents pile grows under the tree until everything is set by the afternoon of Christmas Eve. That night we have a light meal and the stockings are hung up at bedtime.
The next morning Paul and I would be woken by cries of "Is it time yet?" - in a moment of brilliant inspiration many years ago, I came up with an adult-sanity preserving rule which says that stockings can only be opened on Mama and Daddy's bed - and thus if the boys wake at a horribly early hour, we'd be able to say "not yet!"
When they were little, one present could be opened first thing - everything else had to wait until after lunch - when we lived in England there was a half-hearted tradition of "not til after the Queen's Speech" ie after 3pm but that rule - and the Queen - got forgotten over the years.
So that's what our Advent to Christmas to Epiphany have been like for us. But this year I didn't bring out the Nativity scene. Somehow I no longer wanted to "make the figures appear" at night when the boys slept. We had our Advent calendar - a very grown up one of St Basil's Cathedral in Moscow - each window opened to show a different icon. Gabriel, the 12 year old, faithfully opened it each morning. Daniel is in his"bah-humbug" phase though I did catch him occasionally peering at the calendar to look at the pictures.
Our tree decorating ritual was different - Daniel refused to participate, saying he had too much homework to do (he's in the local Waldorf high school). Again, when it was done, he did appear to sit with us in the dark with the tree lit, admiring it. We discussed stockings. This year we are in a new house - I said to the boys "hey, you know the sky light in Daddy and my bedroom? I'm pretty sure that's where Santa comes down so I think you guys had better leave your stockings in our bedroom." They grinned in delight, scoffed, made a few rude comments about Santa - and complied. There was some brief discussion about Paul and I having our own stockings next year - Gabriel was particularly keen on that idea. On Christmas Eve they dutifully presented their stockings. And the next morning I was very amused to hear whispering outside my bedroom door - "do you think they're awake yet?". The boys ripped through their stocking presents with delight - no sophisticated beyond belief teen/older child stuff here!
Our story traditions and singing round the tree evenings have changed too. Only once did we sing together - it was a spontaneous event and I don't think the boys would have cooperated had it been planned. But singing together was lovely and brought back many memories. I skipped most of our usual stories this year. The one exception was Paul's traditional read aloud of Dylan Thomas' AChild's Christmas in Wales - complete with Welsh accents. That is such a beautifully written and hiariously funny little book - and it brings back fond memories of Christmases past in Britain.
Today Gabriel and I will take down our Christmas lights, the wreath on the door and the tree. In years past the tree would disappear on Three Kings' Eve and then reappear on St John's Tide at the height of the summer to be burnt on a bonfire. But we are in town now, too, which means no bonfire and helpful garbage collectors who will whisk our tree away to go on the municipal recycling heap.
So changes have come. It feels right. And I also know that things will continue to evolve - I am sure, for instance, that as my elder son moves through early adolescence he will get over his distaste for family rituals and come to appreciate what we do from real maturity instead of displaying the angst of being a 14 year old. So I know that we will revisit many things and bring them back into our family life, but in a new and renewed form. Next year, for instance, I plan to ask Daniel to put out the Nativity scene himself and perhaps to read some of the Christmas stories to the rest of us. This year would have been too early - next year - or the next - will probably be just right.