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Disheveled Theologian: Light in the darkness

It’s never as much fun to de-decorate as it is to decorate. I never anticipate with joy how the de-decorating process will look, how exciting it will be to see the house void of its Christmas splendor, how great all the boxes will look, stacked up in the closet under the stairs.

Growing up, we always de-decorated on New Year’s Day. Mom would make Dutch Babies for breakfast — sometimes known as Oven Pancakes or German Pancakes or even, as I recently learned from friends, “Hootinany” pancakes — and we’d watch the Rose Parade as we took down the ornaments, folded away the stockings and returned the house to normal after the upheaval of the holidays. I didn’t enjoy the de-decorating even then, but somehow the ritual of a delicious breakfast while watching the parade (and later in the day several football games, the only day of the year we watched football in my house) made it all more bearable. It was just what you did on New Year’s Day.

When I grew up, however, I realized that I could make my own traditions. I decided that I didn’t like starting out the new year with depressing un-decorating rituals. I do still make Dutch Babies, because, why wouldn’t I? We do watch the parade and sometimes even a football game (well, if the Oregon Ducks are playing we do, not that that happens very often), but I don’t de-decorate on New Years Day anymore. Now I wait until Jan. 6, the 12th day of Christmas, otherwise known as Epiphany.

By the time Epiphany rolls around, I know I have no more excuses. The tree has lost half its needles, the ornaments have rearranged themselves as the branches have slowly drooped, and the decorations on tables and shelves have accumulated dust and dishevelment to the point where even they seem to be asking to be put to bed.

And so the process begins, the boxes are hauled up from the closet, the needles are vacuumed up from the floor, the linens are washed and folded (well, washed at least) and the house looks vaguely lonely, void as it is of so much color and excitement.

With the Christmas decorations gone, I am left with empty corners and empty shelves. I never know how to decorate in January. It’s too soon for my Easter decorations. The summer shells are just depressing, fall is long over and I’m not a snowman person.

Last winter I put tea cups on my “seasonal shelves,” as I call them. I suppose I could do that again, but even then it felt a little random. I mean, I love tea cups. But unless one has plate groves to stand up the saucers and maybe even hooks to hang the cups, neither of which do I have, it looks a little odd. I suppose I could buy hooks and finagle the saucers into standing with poster putty.

Or maybe I will just put up some random things and leave it at that. Maybe my antique chess board. Some haphazard animals. The TWA collectable glasses that my sister found and gave to me that I don’t exactly know what to do with but I like because they’re about travel and defunct airlines, both of which have soft spots in my heart, though I’d like them even better if they were from Pan Am …

Yes. I’m rambling and perhaps even disheveled in my thinking. That’s January for me. It’s cold. (Though this year I can’t complain about that too much.) Spring is still far off. (Though judging by the lack of ice so far, maybe it’s not as far away as the calendar might make one think.) And my house is bare and dark. (I really miss the Christmas tree lights.) Even the streets around town seem dull and dismal now that the festive holiday lights and decorations have gone away.

But …

… in the midst of the darkness, in the midst of our pain and loneliness and depression, the light which was ushered in to the world on Christmas, still shines.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness  a light has dawned…For to us a child is born,  to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:2,6 NIV

God himself, in the guise of a wee tiny baby, shines his light into our dark world and brings the dawn.

May the spirit of Christmas continue long beyond the decorations.

Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, is published weekly. Her email is gcodon@gmail.com.

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