Some years, I really love the time between Christmas and New Year. The blankness of the days that make it easy to feel a little bit lost about whether it's December 27 or 29. The long walks to nowhere in particular through shuttered cities or sleeping country lanes. The playing of boardgames that gather dust for the rest of the year and the eating of Cadbury's Roses alongside every cup of tea (the orange cream ones that become edible on December 30 when none of the others are left).
Some years, I appreciate the lovely, restful feeling of that week of suspension between celebrations, on the cusp of a new year, when it seems like no one is doing anything in particular. Some years, I think that post-Christmas period is the most wonderful time of the year.
Some years, I do not appreciate that feeling. Years when I do want to do particular things.
When everyone seems to have agreed to a collective pause and you're not in the mood to take a break, the dead space between Christmas and New Year can induce real anxiety. It can feel like an endurance challenge, rather than a pleasure. This Christmas is one where I'm not in the mood to celebrate and linger – I started IVF treatment a couple of months ago and the closure of the clinic over the Christmas break means that the process will be further slowed. The timing of treatments are tied to your menstrual cycle, so a one-week period where things are shut down amounts to the delay of a whole month. Given the option, there's no way I'd choose now as the time for a break. But it’s not up to me.
My particular situation is fairly unusual, of course, but there are all kinds of reasons why the end-of-the-year gap in action can be unwelcome, especially if you're in the midst of a significant life change, whether it's a negative or a positive one. Things that are stressful on December 24 are not, alas, lifted by the real-world manifestation of a John Lewis advertisement, not even if your box of Roses contains not even a single orange cream.
Finding the time and space to stew isn't always easy, especially if there are people in your life who will think that your failure to join in the levity is a personal affront against them
While my childhood in-between times always seemed like halcyon times – anything not to go to school for several days in a row – in my adult life, some have been hits and some have been remarkable misses. One year, a late-December job loss meant that I had to spend the so-called festive period chewing on my nails and refreshing job-listings pages that were not being updated – after all, no one was at work to update them. On another occasion, I spent that final week in a state of uncomfortable suspension because I was moving between countries – I was longing for the new year to begin that I could root myself in the new place. I was excited to arrive in my new home but, until the first of the year, I lived nowhere in particular and I had no option but to sit on my parents' sofa, stewing and watching TV.
Not to say that this was an entirely bad approach. You see, some years, when the time between Christmas and New Year doesn't offer much respite, stewing is necessary. And, I think, not unhealthy, especially compared with the alternative of trying to force yourself to pretend that the preoccupying issues in your life aren't issues because everyone else is having a festive time. Finding the time and space to stew isn't always easy, especially if there are people in your life who will think that your failure to join in the levity is a personal affront against them, rather than a coping strategy on your part. Some people will say that this in-between time is a good opportunity to breathe deeply and connect with your soul and so forth, and they're not wrong, not necessarily. But the gap in the year does not require you swallow your real feelings.
Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is lean in to looking after yourself and create the necessary boundaries to survive that last week of December – maybe that means spending less time with people whose relative relaxation makes you feel wound up. Maybe it means being a little less celebratory than you are some years. Maybe it means finding a party to attend every day of that strange quiet week, less because you're in the mood to have fun and more because you're in the mood to be distracted, to give yourself a reason to cross the days off your calendar. And I think that it definitely means holding tight to the knowledge that when the new year finally swings around and you're surrounded by people complaining about the post-holiday slump, you can be quietly ecstatic to have returned to normal life.
This week, The Pool contributors are writing about The In-Between, that period between Christmas and New Year – a time of family and reflection, a time when we think about the past and look to the future