Updated: May 31
“New year met me somewhat sad; old year leaves me tired…”[i]
“Back to the gray everyday—"
Our four children, lined up beside us from youngest to oldest at the Christmas morning service, looked at us and one another with chagrin. Gray everyday? But—we hadn’t opened our Christmas presents yet!
We were in our adopted country of Germany where the custom was to open gifts on Christmas Eve. We had long had our own family tradition, carried over from my childhood, of saving the opening for the afternoon of Christmas Day. Christmas Eve, for us, was for singing and reading around the candle-lit and decorated tree. The anticipation of the Day grew with the waiting, and we liked it that way. As well, we wanted to make sure our celebration was first around the manger. Presents could wait. But—presents were important. We all looked forward to the giving and receiving.
So, the pastor’s words had a dampening effect on little—and not so little—ears. Our Christmas was not “over"! We felt sorry for those Germans whose Christmas was.
And, of course, that was his point. If all of Christmas was just the excitement, the shopping, the baking, the eating, the presents, then Christmas was, in fact, over. The aftermath could truly be gray—as, in our part of Germany, it often was. No snow, just gray.
Still, somehow, in the week following Christmas, the decorations begin to lose some of their appeal; the greens on the mantle are drying out; the stockings hung by the chimney with care are deflated. Carols are now definitely out of place. Might as well take everything down. Christmas is over.
Then, in a frantic frenzy, the New Year starts off with a literal bang.
What will the year bring? Just as last year, it will bring the unexpected. It may also bring some of the sameness: the same workday—or the same gnawing lack of it—the same unfinished problems, the same unfinished self that all the past New Year’s resolutions have not yet honed to a little nearer our ideal. It may well bring a lot of gray.
I learned from the Germans that the gray could be met head-on. Germans are great walkers, and they would walk—for pleasure or for necessity—on the grayest of days. I found that going out into a gray day was surprisingly invigorating, whereas, just looking at the gray from inside was depressing.
The same can be said for a new year.
Christina Rossetti’s poetic trilogy, “Old and New Year Ditties,” from which the above quote is taken, meets the new year head-on: “Face me with an honest face/ You shall not deceive me/ Be it good or ill, be it what you will/ It needs shall help me on my road…”
She admits to being a little sad, a little tired, a little gray. But, rather than propping herself up with attempts at the joy she does not feel, she musters her courage with an honest realism: whatever comes can be a tool for shaping and honing her in ways she cannot yet imagine, but ways that have as their purpose helping her along her road.
For Christina Rossetti, the road led to God, and she believed that what he brought into her life, “good or ill,” was what she needed in that process. But not only does her road lead to God but with him as guide, and she calls on him to “watch” with her. She does not hide away, pull the covers over her head, or sink into despair: she opens her eyes and watches, meeting the succession of days to come head-on.
“Though others say me nay, yet say Thou yes/ Though others pass me by, stop Thou to bless...”
Back to the gray everyday?
Here is hope and a compass for heading into the new year.
[i] Christina Rossetti (1830-1894), from “Goblin Market and Other Poems,” 1862