The Post-Christmas Adventure
By Ray Waddle
Christmas holiday was a snarl of bad weather, cancelled flights and
stubborn head colds, with family reunions curtailed or derailed. So my wife and
I kept the tree up into the new year to extend a
yuletide mood, and we didn’t worry what the neighbors might think.
Religious tradition gently dictates taking down the Christmas tree by
Jan. 6, the day the Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem to see the newborn Jesus. But
now it’s mid-January and the tree is still aglow. The Magi have probably turned
around and headed back by now.
If this taking-down-the-tree delay was an unwritten violation, so be
it. The truth is the Christmas drama isn’t over. The Wise Men’s story has
everybody’s now. I face what the Magi faced: a return home to the distracted post-Christmas
world carrying new information – news of God-with-us.
There’s hardly a more mysterious group of biblical characters than the
Wise Men. The New Testament says they came from the East and returned home by a
different route in order to elude the murderous Herod. But we don’t know how long
they stayed in Bethlehem, how long it took them to return to their lands,
assuming they made it back safely, or how their lives were altered by the whole
The most powerful surmise I know of is T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Journey
of the Magi,” where he imagines one of the Wise Men reminiscing years later. In
the poem he frankly recalls the sojourn as an ordeal. But this new birth
haunted them, changed them. They were never the same afterward – no longer at home
in the old kingdoms, under the old spiritual rules, among “an alien people
clutching their gods.”
The four weeks of Advent are always framed as a journey of preparation
for the Christmas story. But the road back from Bethlehem carries a reckoning,
too. Given all the noise and inconvenience and commensurate love around
Christmas, it’s odd to assume everything should go back to normal in exactly
the same way, as if an extraordinary birth wasn’t witnessed after all.
With thoughts of the Wise Men hoofing it back to their far-flung
realms, I’ll face the ridiculous winter weather, frantic headlines and
deadlines and personal aches and pains with a little extra defiance this time.
Christmas marked a birth in a barn and a new beginning along all roads leading
– Ray Waddle is a columnist, author and the
editor of Reflections magazine, published by Yale Divinity School. He
lives in Bethel, CT.