There's nothing like celebrating several major holidays in and around and over the top of six weeks of regular life to make glad the heart when the bleak expanse of January finally arrives.

We tumble off the holiday bus -- I'd call it a train but it doesn't go that fast -- like the travel-weary passengers we are, walking in circles to get feeling back in our legs and blinking in the LED glow of leftover inflatable Christmas minions.

"I can't believe it's January," we say. We're the same people who have been saying, "I can't believe it's Thanksgiving," "I can't believe it's Christmas" and "I can't believe it's New Year's Eve" for the last month and a half; you'd think we'd be believers by now.

But as the late-year holidays tend to demonstrate, our default program is to anticipate, not to reflect. After we either usher in the new year or go to bed trusting the new year to find its way without us, we shake off the leftover pine needles, toss the window candles back into the box where we've kept them and turn our attention to Valentine's Day.

No one considers Valentine's Day the equal of the Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year's trifecta. It was an extremely minor holiday even when our daughters were young and we were required by the government to give them chocolate candy in a heart-shaped box Feb. 14. (This requirement may not have carried the same legal weight as the IRS filing deadline, but we couldn't risk having agents in trench coats seize our children.)

My husband and I gave up exchanging gifts years ago, each of us being of the opinion that not doing gifts was the best gift we could ever hope to give or receive.

We used to exchange gifts. We started out in the usual way, tenderly buying each other the stuff we needed in our mutual life: popcorn poppers, waffle irons, clock radios and so on. Then the children came, and all our time, money and creative thinking swung to them the way a compass needle swings north.

"Let's not bother anymore," we said, or maybe we didn't say it. Maybe we just didn't bother anymore. Lest you think the romance went out of our lives, let me assure you my husband prepared me well for our current agreement. Decades ago, he returned home from a U.S. Navy Reserve summer camp with a lovely Chanel No. 5 box. Inside was a note: "Sorry; I accidentally bought an empty box."

Thus did my expectations settle softly to earth. I've landed in hot-air balloon baskets that bounced harder.

Choosing not to celebrate doesn't preclude noticing a holiday, however. It's impossible not to notice when a grocery-store aisle that on Dec. 31 still was loaded with hats, horns and glittery "Happy New Year!" banners greets the dawn Jan. 1 decked in red satin, balloons and stuffed animals with "Be Mine" and "I (Heart) You" stitched on their bellies.

If any of us can be credited with spreading the spirit of whatever holiday is coming, it's third-shift workers, who reliably cart away leftover decorations and bring in new ones like a shoemaker's elves.

If holiday marketing has a motto, it must be "Excelsior!" Unfortunately, the "ever upward and still higher" objective is dangerous in the context of annual celebrations. As early as last summer, our family of daughters, sons-in-law and grandparents vowed, in the interests of our three beloved grandchildren, to approach the season of giving carrying the banner of whatever the opposite of "Excelsior!" is. Something like, "Cut back big-time." The grandchildren a year ago were overwhelmed by their elders' besotted generosity. They unwrapped presents for days.

No Ghost of Christmas Crazy had to warn us this was dangerous. Lest we turn our grateful little noise-makers into greedy gift-grubbers, we vowed this year not to shower them with material symbols of love. As one daughter said, "We're playing the long game here."

Now we begin 2018 with optimism and energy. Let's hope we can tap into it all year long. Because believe it or not, Thanksgiving is almost here.

Write to Margo Bartlett at