Decked Out

Christmas began in September. Just because the month ended in “ber.” Now that it’s December, I’m seeing red and blinding lights. And every year, it’s the same hoopla. Call me a Scrooge but doesn’t it seem foolish how we’re celebrating Christmas so early? As though we’re honoring the return of the light, when it is still so dark. And there’s all this revelry and merrymaking, way before the Child is born. Like the Celts prancing around the fire a month before the solstice. Or would-be parents toasting the birth of their child, when the bun is still in the oven. And when the 25th comes, we’re spent, and all we have left are an excess of ribbons, gifts for the White Elephant party, a hangover and leftovers. And you wonder, what was it again, about joy, peace and goodwill to all men? Where was the Gloria in exelcis? As one friend said, it’s finally Christmas and you’re left with empty yearning.

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I never really gave Christmas much thought. But today a few friends gathered to reflect about Christmas past, nature’s yearly cycle of dark and light, and the nativity. We’ve marked the festival for centuries, as the victory of light over darkness. The Egyptians, the Celts, ancient civilizations and their fire festivals, sun gods and sun heroes. The light festivals were always celebrated at the solstice, when the days grew longer and the sun was returning. Winter drew to a close and there was the hope of spring. It was a dance after the gloom, warmth after the cold, a banquet as spring promised a harvest, and a spark of hope as the light drew near.

But what is it to us, when we never really experience dark or cold anymore? What’s there to be merry about when the sun is always shining? We don’t feel the seasons, as plants bloom and bear fruit all year, and it can always be warm at home. What then when there’s no longer any gloom or the dying of days? How does one grasp the essence of Christ-mas without sinking through darkness? How do you experience real joy of something coming, of birthing, without going through the anticipation, the labor and toil, and without carrying hope for months and days?

Maybe we do feel the gnawing cold or sense the pitch black. And maybe we’re so fearful of the dark that we cloak it with the jolly, with all the twinkling lights, Santa and his sack of toys, even Rudolf’s glowing nose. Perhaps that’s why we go about this business of keeping busy, of gathering our friends, and of drinking and eating with abandon, because we feel winter inside.

And I’m left with questions I have to grapple with this season. How do we hear a choir of angels heralding the birth of a king amidst the deafening noise? How can one follow a star when everything is obscured by glittering lights?

There are still 18 days till Christmas. I’m looking forward to the birth of the Divine light. But already, there’s too much revelry and it’s always so bright. And it’s been that way since September.

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