How many people read a blog on a major holiday? The process of writing takes no vacations, however, and I often think of holidays as a time to write. It doesn’t really matter if anyone reads it; writing is our witness to the cosmos that “Kilroy was here.” Even if most of us have no idea who Kilroy was. So I find myself awake earlier than most children on Christmas morning. My long habit of rising early to catch the bus hasn’t been easy to break. I creep down the stairs and water the tree before turning on its colorful lights. I make a cup of coffee and wash the dishes left in the sink after a festive Christmas Eve. And I think. There’s always the thinking.
The meaning of Christmas, as the holiday classic tells us, eludes Charlie Brown. Linus van Pelt gives one rendition—that of the Gospel of Luke—as the canonical meaning, but in my experience it shifts during a lifetime. Christmas, after all, is one of a host of solstice celebrations. My thinking these days is that it’s all about light. Shimmering angels, glowing stars, light coming into the darkness. These ideas seem to have, for the most part, Zoroastrian origins, but they’ve been thoroughly appropriated and, in true American style, commercialized. The news headlines read how disappointed retailers always are. The take could’ve been bigger. Capitalism relies on Christmas to make the third quarter. Light in the darkness, in its own distorted way.
As I sit for these quiet moments in the glow of only a tree, I think of those for whom the holiday has become a kind of disappointment. Not a cheery Christmas thought, I know, but an honest one. As families grow and diversify the childhood Christmas of excited children scrambling under the tree to excavate the next gift for me starts to fade. Our economic system separates, and the dearth of days off around the holidays makes travel back to childhood homes difficult. We do the best we can, but the fact is the sixties (speaking for me) are over. Our reality is colder and darker than it used to be. I part the curtains and look for any sign of dawn. It will be a few hours yet before the sun brightens this winter sky, but then, that’s what the holiday has come to mean for me. At least this year, it is the hope of light returning. And that, alone, makes it a holiday.