Whether you await a Child or you long for Peace on Earth, or you strive to see goodness in the abyss of heartbreaking news, it takes attention and intention to turn away from the darkness and embrace the light.
M y mother used to tell us the story of the time she saw Santa Claus. Coming home from Christmas Eve service in rural New York State, she snuggled with her two sisters under the blankets in the back of a horse-drawn sleigh (there was no money for gas for the old Model-T and the roads weren’t plowed anyway).Passing a big house with candles in every window, they spotted a figure walking across the fresh snow, dressed in a red velvet suit and black boots. A full white beard cloaked his face.
“Santa Claus!” the three little girls whispered to each other, and begged their father to drive the sleigh faster to get home before Santa came.
As a young child, I loved this story and the way Mother told it, with details and conviction that made us true believers. When I passed the age of milk-and-cookies for Santa, I still loved the story of how the lives of three little girls in the depths of the Great Depression were enriched by a mere glimpse of Santa-in-costume going to a house for a Christmas party. The magic lingered for them well past Christmas morning, when their stockings were filled only with mittens knitted by their mother, a Kewpie doll “bought” with coffee coupons, and some homemade cookies.
I hadn’t thought of that story in years, until just a few days ago. In a small conference room of a mid-rise in downtown Chicago, pacing as I took yet another call on my cell phone, I glanced out the wide windows. There, in a parking lot visible from my eighth-floor venue, was a man in a bright red suit, black boots, and a snowy beard. He walked quickly through the parked cars and then disappeared. The magic was in the off-chance glimpse of Santa out of context, not ringing a bell or seated on a decorated throne in a shopping mall. St. Nick was out and about and among us.
In this Season, you just got to believe. Whether you await a Child or you long for Peace on Earth, or you strive to see goodness in the abyss of heartbreaking news, it takes attention and intention to turn away from the darkness and embrace the light.
Our ancestors who burned bonfires and venerated the evergreens knew how hard it was to believe in a world that turned dark and cold, as the sun withdrew for longer periods of time, until the Solstice when it needed to be coaxed back to warm the Earth again.
As I put up the last decorations on my hearth and table, I am aware of those who have no homes. As I make the list of the ingredients for Christmas Day dinner for 18, I know there are those who will go without. To ignore these bitter facts is to repeat the sin of Scrooge, who needed to look into the empty eyes of Ignorance and Want, the two emaciated children hiding under the robes of the Ghost of Christmas Present.
Yet, I believe. Whether we recreate the nostalgic times we remember or attempt to make up for what never quite was, we have the opportunity to not only see the light but also to be the light for others. In these shortest days and longest nights, our candles burn all the brighter.