(Jon McNaught/For The Washington Post)

On the morning after Christmas, the mind drifts back to sweet memories of familial joy, of Aunt Marj’s raucous laugh and Uncle Larry’s delightful mirth. Or maybe it’s a day defined more by the fact that Uncle Larry still hasn’t gone home.

The day after Christmas is like no other, a rare moment when the demands of daily life seem as distant as the moon.

Marco Ivan, 26, visiting from Croatia, prefers the peace of Christmas’s aftermath because “I don’t have to do anything.” His biggest challenge, he said as he strolled Dupont Circle, is figuring out what to watch on television.

Mary Silva, 41, a server at an Italian restaurant, was looking forward to a day off, perhaps a trip to a museum. Maybe shopping. Maybe both.

The day after, said Michael Hopper, 26, a television producer, is a time to think about those who worked on Christmas. “But I know we’re all too self-centered to do that,” he said, predicting he’d spend the day “walking the dog and getting back to real life.”

Here is The Day After, as rendered by seven Washington Post writers: shopping mall Santas finally soaking tired feet, the ritual returning of the gifts, a mom cleaning up the mess, a discarded tree that found a new home, hashtags, gun ranges and a National Day of Regret. — Paul Schwartzman


(Jon McNaught/The Washington Post)
Santa is overrated — and I’m overwhelmed

The wreckage is always significant.

Red ribbons snaking in a valley of debris, surrounded by mountains of paper. Overhead, 20 rounds of N-Strike Nerf darts whiz through the cinnamon-scented air. And above the peak of the camelback sofa, there’s the thwack-thwack-thwack of the Nano Hercules helicopter, hovering, then landing right on my splayed, holly jolly, too-exhausted-to-clean-a-thing carcass.

Santa, WTH?

The day after Christmas is when Santa hate sets in. And you begin to resent all the stupid, panicky, Cyber Monday gifts that Satan, I mean, Santa caved on.

Seriously? The little urchins really needed the Xbox One? Because heaven forbid they live a wretched existence playing the tragically, operatically outmoded Wii of Christmas 2011. What a ghastly existence they’ve led, wallowing in the dregs of Madden 11 and Guitar Hero.

The morning after Christmas is like the day after finals, the minute you cross the marathon finish line or when your party has reached the summit at Lhotse.

But there are no grades, no medals, no rad, geotagged status updates. Just a long-awaited exhale.

The deadline came, whether or not that last card was mailed, regardless of whether the last rum cake was baked.

It’s like those times you’re all crazy at your computer, with 78 tabs open, and you’re clicking back and forth in an ADHD frenzy trying to GET IT ALL DONE and suddenly your browser just shuts down. And . . . panic?

Nah, when it reboots, it’s just a blank screen. An invitation to start anew. Who needed all those tabs?

Wait. The Xbox came with Just Dance 2015? Aw, Santa.

Bring. It. On. You kids are toast.

— Petula Dvorak


(Jon McNaught/The Washington Post)
O Christmas tree . . . are those Coke cans?

The tree lay on the damp December sidewalk, its green branches bare except for traces of silver tinsel twitching in the morning breeze.

Here was perfection. I was 16, and this tree — someone else’s pleasure from a Christmas now over — was all mine.

Across my shoulder, I carried that tree into my parent’s New York apartment building, past Soto the doorman, who was mumbling as I headed for the elevator. Could I have seemed any stranger than the tenant who once walked outside to hail a taxi, naked?

The morning after Christmas was always good, because nothing was worse than the day I didn’t get to tear through crackling wrapping paper to revel in new treasures, or eat sugar cookies and sing “Joy to the World” the way the perfectly blond King family did on their TV specials.

We are Jews, my parents reminded me from when I was old enough to yearn for Santa Claus. We sit in dark movie houses on Christmas. We eat moo shu pork. Santa Claus is for the goyim.

Maybe so, but he looked like he was more fun than Rabbi Mendelbaum — or whatever his name was — from the synagogue.

Ho, ho, ho.

As it happened, my parents were out of town when I brought the tree into the living room and propped it up inside a planter.

I celebrated in a chair with a large helping of Sara Lee chocolate cake and Coca-Cola. The empty can made a fine ornament. A half dozen more and the tree was decorated, that stray tinsel still hanging on.

The Christmas magic was over for everyone else, but I was just getting started.

— Paul Schwartzman


(Jon McNaught/The Washington Post)
From under the tree there arose such a clutter

In my house, Christmas is a secular holiday built around gifting, followed on the 26th by another secular holiday built around regret.

This day of regret is a time not just for returns of ill-considered, last-minute purchases, but assiduous purging of anything that can be defined as “stuff.” Resolved: We have too much stuff.

How many objects now exist in a typical home? I am guessing that my house contains more than 150,000 distinct objects. Many of them are shoes. (We’re a house of women. I don’t want to make any sweeping generalizations here, lest it come off as sexist, but I have noticed that all women are completely obsessed with shoes.)

Some people are great at getting rid of clutter. These are spiritual people who can survive for weeks on oxygen and distilled water alone. But for most of us, clutter not only survives our periodic purges, it continues to reign supreme, dominating the home. There are entire corners of the basement, attic or garage that are no-go zones.

On the day of regret, you may find yourself penetrating one of these areas, fired with clutter hatred and a revulsion of the materialist madness that has incited us to overgift at Christmas. You are subconsciously thinking you can absolve yourself of consumerist lunacy if you load up 8 or 10 jumbo garbage bags. But the mission is never accomplished. Inevitably, you’ll discover a box of artwork made by the kids in elementary school. And old Christmas cards from friends you haven’t seen recently. And mementos of your youth, and adventures long ago. You’ll lose all momentum, stuck in your stuff — marinating in the scrapheap of a modern life.

— Joel Achenbach


(Jon McNaught/The Washington Post)

After his busy season, Santa needs to sit and soak

On the 13th day of Christmas, Santa soaks his feet.

Jack Arthur — a burly, bearded and baritone Santa — likes a whole lot of Epsom salts and water hot enough to melt the North Pole. That’s what it takes to unclench toes that have been jammed into black boots for much of the month.

The yule can be cruel on a big-bodied Santa-for-hire. Arthur, a 74-year-old former Navy pilot, relocates from Pensacola, Fla., to Northern Virginia each year to work school, office and hospital parties, from the Alexandria tree lighting to festivities at Georgetown Visitation School. It’s five gigs a day at the peak, more than 70 in all.

“By the day after, we’re definitely ready for a long winter’s nap,” says Arthur. His wife, Sharon, joins him at nearly every job as Mrs. Claus. For them, Dec. 26 is a day for a movie, a pizza and maybe some accounting. (A hustling Santa can bank five figures a season.)

And because being Santa for a month doesn’t leave a lot of time for Christmas, their own holiday chores spill over. Pulling together the 19 members and four generations of their family means holiday dinner on the 26th. And with a Jewish son-in-law in the mix, sometimes what Santa does the day after Christmas is celebrate Hanukkah.

“We call it Hanumass,” he says. “Or sometimes Chrismakah.”

And once Arthur has mothballed the ermine-trimmed cloak for the season (the cleaning bill tops $250), he will pull out the sporran, ghillie brogues and kilt. For the rest of the year, this Santa is a bagpiper.

— Steve Hendrix


(Jon McNaught/The Washington Post)
With gifts of this caliber, hide all the reindeer

There is nothing quite like emptying a clip into the forehead of a paper target to help someone escape the endless small talk with people they’re supposed to love.

For many, that’s what the day after Christmas is for — taking out their frustrations with relatives with a gun, but without having to shoot them.

“A lot of people really need to get away from the in-laws,” says Jerry Thompson, the owner of Dominion Shooting Range in Richmond. “So they come in and shoot.”

For many gun ranges, Dec. 26 is one of the busiest days of the year.

Jason Glascock, a clerk at Clark Brothers gun range in Warrenton, Va., sees it every holiday. First, a Christmas morning filled with weaponry: wives giving guns to their husbands, husbands giving guns to their wives, parents and grandparents giving guns to their kids or grandkids.

“They will give them on Christmas Day and then be in here the next day to shoot them,” Glascock says.

So many hit the range for post-Christmas target practice that Clark Brothers has run out of ammunition in recent years, especially .22-caliber rounds, which are used in many starter guns given as gifts.

At many gun ranges, it’s a day for family outings, for grandsons who want to try out their first rifles from grandpa, for husbands who got just what they wanted from their wives. From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the gun range will be pop, pop, popping.

“They want to come in and use their guns,” Glascock said. “This means a lot to these folks.”

Firing their new weapons is the ultimate gift.

— Michael S. Rosenwald


(Jon McNaught/The Washington Post)
Many happy returns? All of them are!

The dread pajamas of Dec. 25: Pink and turquoise plaid, velvet-trimmed, placed under the tree for a teenager, me, who loathed patterns and wore only browns. The miraculous revelation of Dec. 26: These pajamas could be returned.

For the unsentimental among us, the day after Christmas is a time of blissful off-loading. Sad sweaters, weird-smelling candles, confusing technology: all of it piled into car trunks and escorted back to the Target from whence it came. Inside, the lines are long, the customer service rep is surly and there’s something seedy about the whole process — the embarrassing knowledge that we’re all waiting in the returns aisle because deep down we do not believe it is the thought that counts. There’s something optimistic too, though. Life does come with do-overs, small ones at least. If one can emerge from the department store with a pair of pajamas in tan instead of turquoise, one has achieved a tiny victory against the vast indignities of life.

In recent years, I’ve improved my gift-receiving skills. It was forced benevolence: Mom told me my siblings all hated drawing my name in the family’s annual Secret Santa. Now I embrace all pajamas. (Exhibit A: Teal flannels, covered in penguins, received Christmas last year).

But on Dec. 26, I still secretly long to be at the mall, purging the bad, starting anew, hoping that next year I’ll be a more grateful person. Or get better stuff.

— Monica Hesse


(Jon McNaught/The Washington Post)

If you didn’t hashtag it, did it even happen?

The ambitious wake early and hit the #gym, a feat of such annoyingly admirable willpower that it cannot go unheralded. #sweat, they declare. #WorkOfftheCookies.

Scores of people publicize trips to the mall (#deals), and then scores of people immediately regret going (#baddecision) because, well, scores of people are at the mall (#themalliscrazy).

You might know Dec. 26 as a day of stealth breakfast cookies, video game binges and toys under construction, but look beyond the sparkle of your tree and the blaze of your hearth. Check Twitter. Refresh Instagram. It’s not just the day after Christmas, it’s the #dayafterchristmas.

A year ago, there was a wedding anniversary (#19years) and the birth of a daughter (#shesgonnagetcombogifts). A man who hit a deer with his new car. (His life was a joke, he explained.) And a man #Tanning poolside with his #Wolf. (#OnlyInCalifornia, he sort of explained.)

The loneliest voices, which belonged to the gloomy souls who had to work, were so abundant that they shouldn’t have felt lonely at all. Their many messages — laced with #grumpy and #boredom and #slowdayatwork — were deeply existential: Why am I here?

It was, too, a day without peace. Debate raged. Over movie #marathons: #godfather or #harrypotter? Day-drinking options: #eggnog or #wine? Clothing: #pajamas or #PJs? And, among a few, over Dec. 26th’s place in history. Tweeted a man convinced that the joy and cheer could last no longer: “The day after Christmas is the worst.” Tweeted a woman convinced that her beer and boyfriend could not be outdone: “#bestdayever.”

— John Woodrow Cox