Plough Monday is the first Monday after Epiphany and the day when, traditionally, the farmers return to their ploughs. The holiday celebrating and merry-making are over for now, it is time to go back to the fields.
What does this mean for the modern family? In some parts of the world, Plough Monday is known as “Clean Up Day” or “Lost Monday” as the holiday decorations are “lost” and put away for another year.
At our house, this date on the calendar always seems to hit at the just right time. By early January, our Christmas morning angels have morphed into children tired of being cooped up indoors on sub-zero days. The few remaining cookies in the jar are stale. Our toddler has redecorated and rearranged the ornaments on the lower branches of our tree so often it is starting to resemble our backyard during tornado season.
For today’s families, while we may not all be returning to literal ploughs and fields after the holidays, we are returning back to our daily grinds. It is time to pack up the trimmings and the tinsel and get back to work.
I will confess, however, that a part of me always leaves the holidays behind with some trepidation. The joy and happiness of the Christmas season, with its purpose so clear and its celebration so meaningful, can be hard to leave behind. It can be difficult to leave that magic behind for our children, too.
So, how can a parent make the transition from presents, decorations, and festivities to normal daily life as gentle for our children as possible?
Preparing for a gentle transition into January starts in December. During the holidays, try to maintain normal rhythms. If you have weekly and daily rhythms in place, try the best that you can to hold on to those routines. These unchanging routines will be the anchors that help provide stability during the busy holiday season, and beyond, for your kids.
If your children have chores that they are responsible for, make sure those routines stay in place, as well. Add in as much holiday festivity as you want, of course, and joyously celebrate the season, but keep the roots of your family life in place meanwhile.
Spiritual Over Material
Giving gifts is one of my favorite parts of the holidays, but we can help our children keep their perspective by focusing on the spiritual aspects of the holiday season – ranking them higher than the material aspects.
When the outside world is shouting at them “presents! presents! more! more!” at every turn, we can show our kids another side, another purpose to December. If nothing else, we can show them the value of slowing down and savoring the season. I wouldn’t trade an afternoon of cocoa and graham crackers with my kids for anything found at the mall.
The Left Behind Gift
Especially for a young child, it can be quite a let-down to move on from a time period where it seems that there are presents for them in every visitor’s coat pocket and under every Christmas tree in the homes they visit. Almost all at once, the holidays are over, just as a child is perhaps getting used to this new gift exchanging “norm.”
One way to help with this is to incorporate a “left behind” gift tradition. This is a little present that Santa somehow manages to accidentally forget to put under our tree, or leaves in an unexpected place, undiscovered until after Christmas. Last year, my kids were delighted to find three tiny gifts under our Christmas tree skirt as we were packing the tree away.
Most children become enamored with Advent calendars. It doesn’t take long for even the youngest child to enjoy the tradition of counting down the days. Expand this concept and continue the idea by planning a special event for after the December holidays and counting down to it.
Gradually Remove Holiday Decorations
Once the holidays are over, take down your decorations gradually. Go slowly, putting things away a little bit at a time, rather than an abrupt all at once shift in décor. That rapid, overnight change in environment that can be jarring to a child. Imagine waking up one day and having things around you be completely different than they were the day before!
Taking a lesson from tradition, I give myself the annual goal of having all the of the holiday decorations removed by Plough Monday. I take down a few things here and there every day and I involve the children in packing the decorations away. The final ornament packed is usually celebrated with a mug of cocoa – one last small holiday celebration before next year.
There will perhaps be a feeling of bareness and the empty space where the Christmas tree had been or once the Advent ring is missing from the table. Still, I would suggest that you not be in a rush to fill those spaces right away. Let your household pause and rest before you transition into the next season of the year. Be still.
If you have a nature table, let it pause before the next transition as well. Allow a display of a simple white playsilk and a single candle before you begin adding snowflakes and bring in King Winter.
By the traditional calendar, Plough Monday marks the return to normalcy. But the post-holiday transition into every day life can be a gentle one for our children, and for us, if we are mindful and do a small bit of planning to help prepare our families for the change. Taking up the plough again can be its own reason for joy!
Kara Fleck is a writer, wife, and mother of three. She lives in Indiana with her family and is the editor of Simple Kids.