Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Christmas snow and solstice simmerings

Has this fall been darker than previous years? Maybe. But probably not. Fall is fall, after all. You know by now, just by reading my last few posts, it's not been an easy year.I've been sad.  I've been scared. I've been angry. The world doesn't make much sense to me when I consider what's outside the walls of my own home, and sometimes even things inside my home don't make much sense. And every time someone asks, "So, you ready for Christmas?" as if they're looking for me to fall apart into a pile of frazzled nerves and broken promises, I feel my shoulders creeping closer to my ears. What the heck does that mean, really, to be ready for Christmas?

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves, our kids, our loved ones, don't we, around this time of year? I've felt an acute aversion in 2016 to the barrage of ads on television, to the glut of promotional emails in my inbox, to the manic holiday songs in every public space. I pushed back against my dad's daily texts asking about gift ideas for my husband and kids. I felt panicky watching the pile of gifts grow taller and taller as Honey wrapped them. Why so much focus on stuff? Where do we stash all of it, once the packaging comes off? How does any of this frantic, forced holiday frenzy push out the darkness? 

It doesn't. 

Something happened this past weekend, though, that I feel I need to share: Early on Saturday -- the Saturday before Christmas, the day that the marketers tell us is our Last Chance, hurry to the stores now before time runs out and Christmas is ruined! --  I found peace in a snow storm. There was a distinct moment in which I felt something move, like a switch flipped inside me, and I actually felt Christmasy. I think it was joy.

The snow was that perfectly beautiful, magical, fluffy kind: small flakes that whisper as they fall to earth, then breeze away with the movement of your hand. I could almost make out each individual pattern on each individual flake, like they each their own message to whisper.The whole world outside seemed clean, quiet, still. I sipped my coffee and simply watched the snow fall. Later, in the morning, I noticed people giggling and smiling at one another in the grocery market parking lot, even while clearing snow off their cars. Smiling in a snow storm, can you imagine? Then I dropped Zippy off for a play date and his excitement to be with a friend nearly moved me to tears - oh, to be 6 in a Christmas snow!

When we came home, the boys played outside until their cheeks turned red-purple and they collapsed on the living room floor in layers of scarves and hats and sweaty silliness. We sipped cocoa and giggled over silly iMovies that Happy made. We mixed salt dough for a craft project, and our friends came over in the afternoon. We played with Hess trucks, cut out salt dough ornaments, listened to my personal holiday playlist (the John Denver and the Muppets album "A Christmas Together" is everything), and simply hunkered down as the snow fell outside. So warm. So safe. So simple.

I remembered that joy is a deep-down thing; happiness and sadness come and go, but joy remains intact. Even in darkness! Joy can bubble up. Joy can be an unexpected gift. If you're open to receiving it. 

Tomorrow is winter solstice. It will be darker than all the days before. But... inch by inch, minute by minute, the light will increase through the next six months. Light comes back. It always does. Each and every morning. In every season, no matter how dark.

This morning I talked with the boys about ways to welcome the solstice together. They looked confused at my mention of darkness and candles and sunrises. Until I reminded them of our own beliefs around Jesus as the light of the world: "The people walking in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine upon them." There's a reason we celebrate the birth of Christ during the darkest time of the year. We light candles on Christmas Eve to remind us of His light, to make space for it. We put twinkle lights on our Christmas tree as a reminder of happiness and joy. Heck, even the tree itself is a symbol of the cycle of life, the evergreen promise. 

On this winter solstice night, we will light candles while we bake cookies and watch a favorite Christmas show. Then we'll bundle up before bedtime and walk into our deep, dark backyard, where we will look up at Orion cartwheeling through the heavens. I will think of my sister, who celebrates earth and sky and soul and magic, and who first taught me these things when she was just a wee one in our own backyard on solstice a quarter-century ago. And I will let go of the darkness that has been in my heart for the past few months. I will make space for light and joy.

And tomorrow, as I walk to work, I'll say good morning to those amazing, enduring ducks who don't seem to notice how cold it is on Back Cove. They keep swimming as they always do, season to season, year to year. Then I'll put my face to the sunrise and I'll sing. I don't know what song yet, but I'm sure some tune will come.

I'll be ready for Christmas, too. In case you ask. 


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