AMAC Exclusive – By The Gallic
Each year as Christmas would approach, in the busy Catholic home of my childhood, the magic of the season would slowly emerge. The tree would be erected, the lights would be hung, and the baking would commence. I come from a large family, with 7 brothers and 2 sisters, and when we sat down to eat, a mountain of food was consumed. With all the boys, there were many hands to help prepare for the holiday, and with the organizational genius of my parents, there was always plenty to do.
When Christmas Eve would come, we would decorate the tree, but it would not be lit. The Advent wreath would be removed and a one with red candles would take its place. The nativity would still be bare, until Christmas morning and we would get ready for Church.
At 6 pm on December 24, by agreement of our neighborhood, something remarkable occurred. My father, being among other things a great salesman, convinced everyone to wait until that time before they lit up their houses. So, on Christmas Eve at 6 PM, every house’s lights would be lit at once, and the dark street would be bathed in the glow of heavenly light. The secret decorating that each family would do was suddenly and without preamble revealed to the street, an amazing spectacle that left us awestruck each year.
Some of the decorations were quite memorable. One year we came up with the idea of putting a ‘Merry Christmas’ on our chimney, which we carefully mounted only to realize that the wind was beating it to pieces, so we hastened to reinforce the mounts. I feel certain we won the ‘non’ competition that year. (Sadly, the sign was destroyed one January as a sudden gust of wind came up as I was taking it down. The choice was either to let go of it or try to fly off the roof. I opted not to fly.)
As I grew older, I often reflected on how this holiday tradition was a fitting reminder of the power of a little light in our darkened world. In the Bible, the Book of Isaiah says that “the people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” It’s a prophecy about the coming of Christ, and the reason we still celebrate the holiday by stringing up lights on our homes.
The crazy thing about darkness is that even the smallest spark of light defeats it. In a dark cave, a single candle can light the entire passage. The greater the darkness, the more powerful the influence of the light. As more candles are lit, the light grows ever more powerful, banishing the darkness from any space.
This is a lesson I return to often when the inevitable philosophic musings creep into my thoughts each holiday season: What does Christmas really mean today? Is it all commercial and bought online or is there something more to be had? In all the noise, is there something we miss?
These are not new questions; they’ve been kicking around for some time. Consider, for instance, the following from Dr. Seuss in 1957, when the Grinch seems puzzled that his theft of the materialistic symbols of Christmas from Whoville can’t darken the light within the hearts of the community:
“It came without ribbons! It came without tags!”
“It came without packages, boxes or bags!”
And after puzzling three hours, till his puzzler was sore, the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more!”
Christmas does mean quite a bit more. It is about love and peace and light. Gifts, although perhaps the prime symbol of Christmas materialism, are really about expressing our love for others, and sharing the light of the season with them. The dress you give a young granddaughter, which makes her feel like a princess, the rocking horse you give your grandson, from which he can rule the range, do more than entertain, they enlighten these little people to the love of their family. Cookies, cards, a phone call, even a text, all can serve to bring light to the lives of others. On this Christmas Day, in the midst of the dark of winter, isn’t light what we all need? So, bring light to those around you this Christmas, share your love for each other, and don’t let fear of rejection stop you.
After all, this season is about a baby born in a stable to a mother rejected from the inn, a defenseless child who yet is king. All of us who are parents can relate to the birth of a child and inwardly shudder at having done this in a stable. Time is measured from that moment, as everything changed and as the Angels filled the night with light, singing “Glory to God in the highest and Peace on Earth to those of Good Will.”
On some level, our community coming together to share in the lighting of the houses embodied all of those timeless truths about Christmas. As we stood with our families, neighbors, and friends, we were reminded that even in the darkest night, we all had the power to share our light with each other. So, no matter what darkness you may be facing this year, have hope and, like Tiny Tim said, “A Merry Christmas to all, and God bless us, everyone!”
The Gallic is the pen name of an educator with over 30 years of experience, who spends his time helping schools get better at teaching their students and parents happier at sending them to those schools.
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