So Christmas is this week. How do you feel about that?
I sort of feel…ambivalent? Resigned? Over-listicle-d? I may have just made up a word there.
Is that ok to say out loud? Or out loud-ish? That instead of feeling cozy or wrapped in hygge or ready for my glo(w)-up or whatever, I just feel sort of “doing stuff-y.” Definitely made up a word there, but I don’t think it was as successful as the last one.
I’ve tried hard this year to reconnect to the childlike wonder of anticipation and joy and the not-knowing-what’s-coming-but-I’m-sure-it’s-awesome feeling my 7-year-old seems to have.
Of course, as the person who does the Christmas shopping and decorating and the planning of the shopping and the decorating, maybe there’s just not that much to be expectant about. I know what’s coming—in detail and with dollar amounts.
That glossy/hazy/fuzzy version of Christmas with soft focus lenses and never-ending calories-be-damned-desserts doesn’t exist for my middle-aged self, fighting a middle-aged spread into grandmotherly abundance of hips and “would you like some more of that” heaping platefuls of deliciousness.
I’m here in the middle. Not yet ready to give in to whatever may come with my midsection and still not finished with the stocking stuffing and special toy hunts.
This year, in an attempt to be more spiritual than scattered, I set up an Advent wreath. Traditionally, this is an actual table wreath with either four or five candles that you light on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. The idea is that the closer you get to Christmas, the more light there is.
I didn’t have a wreath so I just put some pillar candles on a rustic platter thing because I am bad with greenery, especially when accompanied by candles. That may be genetic as my mother set the greenery on fire at her sister’s wedding while lighting the altar candles 60 years ago. It’s a longstanding tradition to keep open flame and branches away from each other in my family.
Anyway, the candles are supposed to represent hope, faith (or expectation), joy, and peace. Sometimes there’s a center candle that represents Christ. You light one for the first week, two the second week, and so on until Christmas Eve when you light all 4 (or 5, if you include the Christ candle like I did).
And you light them and reflect on the topic while gazing at the dancing lights and the universe is filled with snuggly warmth and the smell of apple cider. I assume.
Our candles, however, seem to represent exhaustion, irritability, disappointment, and possibly greed.
We’ve gotten in Advent calendar fights over who gets the candy. I decided to throw in some money this year thinking that they could then use it to buy some small gifts for each other and there were legitimate tears when one kid got money and another one didn’t. I regret that choice.
We’ve had to negotiate who gets to pray, who gets to read the Bible story, and who sits where. At one point, I told a kid they didn’t get to light the candles anymore.
Nothing smelled like cinnamon and everything sounded shrill and angry.
In literature fire represents life (thanks, Survivor), death, destruction or purification. In the Bible, there was the sacred ground at the burning bush for Moses. The Holy Spirit came down like “tongues of flame” at Pentecost. Even the star of Christmas Eve is was some sort of a ball of fire in the sky shining in the darkness.
I was supposed to be reflecting over my advent candles. Staring into the tiny flames and channeling my inner Mary, mother of Jesus, “pondering these things in my heart.”
Instead I’m pondering all the stupid things I’ve done this month. Like had a glass of wine or three on an empty stomach at an office party and rambled incessantly at Jay’s coworkers (sorry, Julie).
I yelled at my kids for “messing up” my Christmas Lego scene because that is a thing that I non-ironically own and also have deep feelings about.
I ponder why I seem to have a self-destructive streak when it comes to binge eating all of the chocolate in my house. Yes, I did eat one of the teacher gifts at like 10:30 the night before I was supposed to send it to school. I can’t undo that.
I ponder what it means that my son had to be told that no, we won’t be celebrating Jackmas and that no, he cannot make Jackmas paraphernalia to give to others, and that yes, I get it that it’s called that because his name is Jack. I don’t know what his future holds, but so far he hasn’t done anything worthy of branding his own holiday.
This week I substitute taught in an elementary school and we had a holiday sing-a-long with the special needs wing of this school. These are kids on the autism spectrum, but there are also kids with significant mental and physical challenges. First graders in diapers and nonverbal second graders are common.
There were candy cane lights that lit when a child used his head to press a device mounted to his wheelchair.
There was a Christmas tree with a similar set up. There was a menorah. There were twinkling lights and color-coded bells and Star of David flags and even a few dancing dreidels.
One teacher, a woman I know to be Jewish, was wearing a Santa hat and gamely attempting to coerce a kid into participating so his mom could have a good pic of his holiday show. The kid, for his part, wanted to get the heck out of Dodge now that he could see his mom.
There was chaos and noise and life and emotions ranging from defeat to fear to joy to soul changing love.
And I thought…
These are lights I’d like to ponder.
I know real-life heroes. Men who wear flags on their shoulders and get shot at on occasion and walk forward to step into the breach for the rest of us.
But my goodness…these women caring for the most vulnerable members of other people’s families sure as heck look like heroes to me, too.
There they sat; mothers filming their precious children, educators of all sorts encouraging their charges, grandmothers and fathers, typically-abled children singing along and cheering for their “special friends,” as they are referred to in the building.
Here were women surrounded by tiny lights and small hearts encased in bodies and minds that will never look “normal,” but are surely of value. These small flames of goodness and patience and kindness and gentle hands in response to impotent frustration are worth pondering.
These acts of love for our fellow man are sacred.
They are worth reverence.
They are worth contemplation.
I can’t relate to much of what encompasses the Christmas story, but a woman nurturing a tiny light into the world…offering protecting from danger and hurt feelings and the cold outside all while hoping that light has the chance to become a roaring flame? That I can understand.
We will continue to light our Advent wreath candles this week, adding light the closer we get to the celebration of Jesus’s birth. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, the Sacrificial Lamb, the Light of the World.
He was not known to be bombastic or dominant or cavalier with the hearts of others, but rather as a man who said to love your neighbor as yourself.
So I will reflect on those who continue to serve their neighbors; those who take these words to heart in spite of the challenges and sacrifices that they demand. And in that groundswell of meager lights I find the hope. The faith. The joy. The peace. That this world, not just the next, can be better. That this place can be sacred.
That I can continue to nurture the lights with whom I’ve been gifted into human beings who will bring more light to a world that often seems full of darkness.