Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself. — Desiderius Erasmus
“I need the Christmas lights up earlier than usual this year,” I announced the first week of December.
My Jewish husband does a good job with Christmas lights, though I can’t say he looks forward to it. On the contrary, he puts off the job as long as possible until a critical mass of houses on our street are plugged in for the holiday season.
But a few days after Thanksgiving, I had noticed how my heart jumped with joy when I passed a twinkling tree in the neighborhood. These days I’m on a constant lookout for sources of joy since the newspaper headlines are such a downer.
After only a little bit of grumbling, he unearthed the lights from the basement, tested the strings, and headed outside. His system of wrapping the dogwood trunks and branches with lights has become more challenging over the past twenty-plus years, as the trees have grown taller but the ladder hasn’t.
Indoor illumination is my purview, starting with the Christmas tree lights. I twist more strings of tiny bulbs around garland draped over the stair banister and yet more to frame the kitchen window. Candles are interspersed everywhere, including on the fireplace mantel, where they bookend the menorahs and Christmas décor sharing the space.
My husband and I each have one Jewish and one Christian parent. But because Judaism is passed down through the mother’s line, he is “officially” Jewish, while I am not.
Labels don’t concern me. We embrace the breadth of our heritage by celebrating all of it. While we display an array of Jewish and Christian symbols in our home this time of year, the lights are what tie it all together.
The lights point to the commonality of the message.
And I’m not only talking about Judaism and Christianity. Festivals of light have been around since pagan times and continue to this day across religions and cultures. Hinduism’s festival of light, Diwali, celebrates the triumph of light over darkness with lamps and fireworks. The Lunar New Year, Kwanzaa, and Santa Lucia Day are other examples of holidays celebrating light during the darkest time of the year in the northern hemisphere.
Indeed, it’s “the light”—in every meaning of the word—that we celebrate around the winter solstice. The website souledout.org puts it this way:
Winter Solstice holidays have been with us for thousands of years, begun at the dawn of agriculture among people who depended upon the return of the sun. Many of these holidays celebrate light literally, but for many, there is also the symbolic meaning of light ~ Wisdom.
I’d go further than that. Light is one of the oldest and most meaningful symbols around. No matter what our religious or cultural background (unless you are of the vampire persuasion), we all love light. In literature and paintings throughout history, light represents not only wisdom, but also rebirth, goodness, purity, hope, the Holy Spirit, faith, Jesus (“the light of the world”), life-giving energy, well being, and joy.
We need the light more than ever this holiday season.
Full disclosure, I’ve written that line before. Four years ago almost to the day as I write this, in fact, an unintentional coincidence (if you believe in coincidences). My heart was just as heavy from the headlines that year following the Newtown school shootings on December 14, 2012.
I hadn’t realized the full weight I was carrying in the wake of that tragedy until I got out of bed a few days afterwards, long before the sun was up. I padded down the hallway towards the stairs to let the dog out. Something felt different, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
It was the light glowing on the trees in the front yard spilling through the windows, displacing the darkness of the house. That hint of brightness in the hallway felt like a reassuring caress. My spirit lifted—just a bit—for the first time since the Newtown news broke and the faces of those twenty slain children and six staff members of Sandy Hook Elementary School consumed us.
I decided then and there to do what I could to put the power of the holiday to work. Unabashed singing of Christmas carols followed, It’s a Wonderful Life played in the background during cookie baking, and drives around town to take in the lights felt like subversive acts in dark times.
I made a decision to be happy that holiday season, hoping to shine a light and disperse the darkness rather than letting darkness prevail. This year I’m redoubling that effort, however frivolous it may seem to some.
I will honor and nurture the joyful feeling in my heart that Christmas lights inspire. It’s an easy action to take, to be followed by other types of action down the road.
For today, though, I will follow the advice of Somebody Important who once said, let there be light!