When I was on my mission in Chile, Christmas was a difficult season for me. Not only was I thousands of miles from home, family, friends and anything familiar, but being south of the equator meant a very warm Christmas. It didn't FEEL like Christmas, so how could it BE Christmas?
I never really did get used to the topsy-turvy seasons there. Rain in June and July leading to a cold August -- it was just weird.
It's easy to rely on familiar things to help us celebrate important events. Tradition matters.
Or does it?
Since those two Christmases spent abroad, I have had passed a couple of other Christmases that definitely were not traditional. This past Christmas was one of them. For one thing, we've been having unseasonably warm weather. Then on Saturday night, Christmas Eve, we took C to the emergency room for some kidney stone pain management. We were home by 2:00 a.m. Christmas morning, only to have to turn around at about 7:30 to take her back. Linda took her while I waited at home for her mom who was already en route to our house to celebrate the day with us.
Linda and I went to church and participated in the program there with the choir in our respective callings. We came home, ate some dinner, then gathered all our stockings and Santa Claus goodies and went to the hospital to open those with C who had been admitted.
So it wasn't a very traditional day. But it doesn't matter. What matters is that Christmas happened. Not necessarily in 2011, but two thousand eleven years ago when a baby half God/half man was born into humble circumstances. That little boy brought light into the world.
I've been thinking about that light, and Christmas. We all know (and for those who don't know, it's becoming more and more widely accepted) that Jesus wasn't born in December, but in the spring. April 6, to be exact. We celebrate Christmas in December for the same reason all good holidays are celebrated when they are -- to make it easier for all those heathen/pagans to accept Christianity.
It's no accident that Christmas falls so close to the winter solstice. The seasonal significance of the winter solstice is in the reversal of the gradual lengthening of nights and shortening of days. Solstice was an important time of year for good pagans anciently. It meant that winter would be over soon. The shortest day had happened and the days would lengthen as the earth tilted closer to the sun.
The return of the light is the most prominent feature of most midwinter festivals. In Sweden on St. Lucy’s Day, young girls don white dresses and a wreath of candles and awaken their families with cakes and song. Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, is celebrated by lighting candles over a span of eight days. The Christian custom of the Advent wreath, with its four candles, one lit each of the Sundays before Christmas, is another way of re-kindling the light.
The Christmas candle, a large candle of red or some other bright color decorated with holly or other evergreens, was at one time a popular custom throughout Great Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia.
The Jews celebrate Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights. It's an eight-day holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BCE. Hanukkah is observed for eight nights, starting on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, which may occur at any time from late November to late December in the Gregorian calendar.
Mid-winter is all about light. Or the promise of light returning to the earth. Just as ancient people passed winter by waiting for the warmth of spring, so they waited for the promise of the Savior.
So it really doesn't matter when or how you celebrate Christmas. It doesn't matter that I didn't get to open my gifts until December 28. What does matter is that that little baby boy grew to be the Savior of the world. My Savior.
Even though I'm writing a post about Christmas on the last day of 2011, my thoughts still turn towards that light. What can I do to bring a little more light, joy and kindness into the world? That's where my thoughts are as I start to usher in 2012.
Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. I wish you joy, peace, happiness and light. Lots and lots of light.