Caragh Medlicott reflects on the hazy period between Christmas and New Year, asking whether we might not learn something from this moment of uncommon relaxation.
The days between Christmas and New Year always remind me of becoming an adult. Those first weeks of student-based independence when you learn, the hard way, that you can get sick of noodles for dinner and that – despite a lifetime of denial – consuming a whole bowl of cake batter absolutely does give you a stomach ache, just like your mother always warned you. In other words, it’s a time of indulgence and excess. A moment when the usual rules no longer apply (even when, awaking dazed and crumpled from the third nap of the day, you begin to wonder whether those usual rules might have not just have a few benefits, after all). It’s a haziness which is at once pleasant and disorienting. For those of us lucky enough to be off work in the Christmas-to-New-Year interim, the distinction between days, between mealtimes, and between the hour at which it’s acceptable to pour a glass of port become blurred and meaningless.
True, there are moments where, melded to the sofa, watching your fourth Christmas special in a row, things can start to take on an existential glimmer… And I daren’t mention that this year there is not one, but two seasonal instalments of Mrs Brown’s Boys – a true insignia of our dystopian times. Yet, I’d still like to make a case for the richness of this liminal period – these in between days – to pay homage to stained pyjamas and turkey sandwiches, to 4pm glasses of wine and copious amounts of smelly cheese. Because, in our always-connected-always-spinning-always-working-world, slowing down and chilling out is beginning to feel more and more like a novelty worth revelling in.
It would, of course, be remiss of me not to acknowledge that spending the festive period off work and with a loving family is a privilege all of its own. One that, in this time of pandemic and increasingly infectious variants, is even rarer than usual. From missing the last train home on Christmas Eve to working retail tills during the festive rush, I’ve had my share of Christmassy disruptions over the years – but with Omicron raging, I feel an especially pronounced gratitude to be at home with loved ones in the last days of 2021. Perhaps that’s precisely why I’ve been thinking more and more about this period; the magical strangeness of it. After all, if lockdown has versed us in the art of boredom, then these in between days might just be our best annual lesson in what it means to really switch off. It is only now, with all shopping done, cards sent, and the pressure of gift-giving and Christmas Day lapsed that we can really hit pause and let loose with the relaxation.
Yes, ‘tis the season to be jolly and giving and so on and so forth, but it’s also a period in which we are uncommonly kind to ourselves. The reasons for that are vague, habitual. Perhaps it’s primarily because of the collective sense of indulgence, the idea that when everyone is slobbing out we all have permission to do the same. Whether it’s eating what we want when we want or making extra familial efforts with board games and charades, there is something about this period which feels in opposition to regular modern life. This is the age of the #hustle – a time when every hobby must be monetised, and acts of self-improvement are practically a cultural pastime. Between our devices and the imminent reportage of our lives via social media, so many of us only ever truly switch off when we’re literally asleep (and let’s not even get into the rise of ‘coronasomnia’). These days, post-work guilt is an epidemic all of its own. No wonder, then, that January – with its promise of misguided dieting tips and New Year’s resolution threads – is commonly associated with a major case of the blues. As one friend put it to me, New Year’s Day feels like ‘Sunday on steroids’. The reason for that is surely not just the mourning of festivities but the mourning of a fleeting moment of self-care and relaxation.
No, we can’t eat, drink and be merry every day of the year – but while the fire is still glowing, the festive mist still heavy in the air, let us make the most of this unique time of relaxation, and carry the resolve to be kinder to ourselves well into 2022, as well.
Caragh Medlicott is a Wales Arts Review Senior Editor.