I love this time of year. I mean, LOVE.
I love the colors, the lights, the music, the bustle. I love the party invitations, the way people are generous with their money towards the needy, and how strangers lock eyes and smile. I love how kindness crackles in the air. How mornings feel like waking to a surprise party for Frosty. I love how people care, again. I love the things I learn about my children over steaming mugs of hot cocoa. I love that hope is suspended under all of us, like the kindest net under the tightrope of our daily lives. I love the joy, and laughter, the indulgent nature of holiday food. I love the rest that comes while cuddling under a blanket on the couch across from twinkling lights, while a Christmas movie plays in the background. I love it. So. Much.
I love Christmas morning, or at least the ideals I hold about Christmas morning. I love the Hallmark commercial that plays in my head when I envision my children unwrapping their gifts. It’s one of the best things ever. I always think it will be perfect. And it never is. It’s a family holiday, so, yep, there’s always something. But I try, so hard. And my children are happy, so that’s good enough for me. So good, in fact, that I still can’t sleep on Christmas Eve. I am still a little girl, staying in one of the guest rooms of my grandparents large home. Still staring out the window at the electric staccato rainbow of colored lights around each arched window, illuminating the otherwise blue white of the snow. I am still clenching my stomach around the butterflies of hope.
There’s one thing that happens every year, that rivals Christmas morning. On December 23rd, we load up our children, and head out into the night. Our bellies satisfied from a hearty dinner, we stop at an espresso stand, where we come modern a-wasseling, and acquire two lattes and five hot chocolates. Then we’re off! We drive all around town, searching out the houses with the highest energy bills. We sing Christmas carols loudly and off-key; Comfortable in a way that you can only be with your closest of friends and immediate family. We are louder than should be legal in such a small space. We tell stories of Christmases past, and make memories that will keep us through the rest of the current winter. We are a boisterous crew. Giddy, and joy filled, we are a tangle of words and motion.
My children oooh and ahhh, and gasp with delight. They shout and point, and press their little warm hands to cold windows, straining to get just that much closer to the displays of lights. They are mesmerized. And if I’m honest, so am I.
We all have different things that we most enjoy. For some of us, it’s all about the lights. For some it’s the figures in the yards. For some it’s the trees, glowing impossibly bright. One of my daughters counts the angels, while her sister counts the stars. For my five year old it’s all about Santa’s and baby Jesus’, in all forms. It is not lost on me, the way our tradition emulates life. The ways that December 23 is a metaphor for so much more than just one simple night.
There is so much darkness, isn’t there? So much bleakness outside of our doors. There is anger and hatred, injustice, and mind numbing selfishness at every turn. There is cruelty, and suffering, and things that look impossible to set to rights. We have all lost things that cannot be found, all walked around smiling, hiding our emotional skinned knees behind our best slacks. We have all heard people whispering behind our back, all been called names that are not true, and are shame filled and just sad. We have all grieved, have all gone without. We have watched people we love hurt themselves, and us in the process, sometimes again and again.
Sometimes this life feels overwhelmingly hard. Sometimes I am a coward, wanting to stay in my own house, so cozy and warm. Some days it takes every bit of my courage to leave my front door. To risk the maybes of a strife filled earth, to bring my babies out into this place of shadows and a world that groans as it turns.
But someday is coming. And someday is soon. Before I am ready, my heart will leave through that same door. In five pieces, it will go out, as they make their own way. My children are growing, and cannot stay. They are becoming More, with every moment that passes. It is up to me, to teach them, and also, to help them practice.
And so we go out, into the darkest of nights. We sing in unison to prevent silence. We don’t stay comfortable. We don’t dwell on the darkness. We go past our own borders, making strangers into neighbors, praising others handiwork. Our path illuminated by the occasional streetlamp, we keep going, encouraged.
Together, as we look for the light.