It’s that time of year again when the sun has gone away, packed up and moved to some other country where the people wear bathing suits and shorts from sunup to sundown, their daylight lasts for 14 hours every single day, they are warm all the time and have to put lotions all over themselves to avoid getting too much sun, getting burned by the sun. But for the rest of us, it is cold and dark, and our days are short.
We’re now given just a few hours of daylight, or so it seems — barely enough to travel to work, maybe even in the dark and certainly in the cold, bundled up, faces looking down so the cold wind does not sting our eyes, arriving early to our places of labor, where we likely stay until it’s dark again, when we reverse the route, getting home to eat, watch TV, go to bed, do it again. Some desperate souls buy expensive lamps that are supposed to trick their brains into thinking it’s still summer, always will be. The rest of us know it is winter; it’s dark, it’s cold, it feels as though we are in a coffin that is being lowered into the ground, dreaded pallbearers efficiently disposing of what is left of our pale, cold selves, and who knows if we’ll ever see daylight again. Or we are huddled in caves eating something warm from a pot and packing on fat to survive in case we face terrible storms and cannot leave our caves for months, sitting in the dark, waiting, waiting.
Maybe winter is the true test of faith: do you believe? Do you believe, despite everything to the contrary, that the sun will return and we will be warm again? Do you believe, while huddled in a cave without warmth or light, do you believe that babies will be born and bulbs will peek through the once-frozen ground to reveal their stunningly glorious colors just in time for spring? Do you believe the trees will bud and produce unimaginable quantities of fresh, juicy, delicious fruit? Do you believe that you will walk barefooted in your house and yard, and forget to put on shoes because life is just so good? If you believe all that, then you have faith.
How do we show this faith, of the not particularly religious type, the faith of the human spirit, that part of our soul that is so tied to nature and to the lives of our ancestors stamped onto our bones by DNA that it is neither conscious nor particularly rational, unrelated to race or ethnicity or country of birth or political party or religion or gender? The faith of humans that life will go on, even when we see none of it around us and it seems this must be the very end, the absence of light, the absence of warmth, yet the faith buried deep inside our heads quietly says: Wait, wait, it will get better. Life will come back again, this is not the end. Intermission, not game over. A trial separation, not a divorce. Serious illness but not fatal. Faith in what we have not seen because it does not yet exist, but despite that, we have absolute certainty on this point.
The practice of putting lights (originally candles) on indoor Christmas trees is attributed to Martin Luther, who broke with the Catholic Church in the 1500s and started the foundation for the new branch of religion known as Protestantism. The first electric Christmas tree lights came from Edward H. Johnson,who decorated his Christmas tree with electric red, white and blue bulbs in 1882. After World War II, when the suburbs sucked all the families out of the cities, out of the apartments and into the tract of stucco homes, the practice of lighting the exteriors of homes became popular and, eventually, competitive.
I like Christmas lights. I have a neighbor who lights his up the day before Thanksgiving, every year, and I’m so happy when he does. No sound system, no blinking Santas with reindeers, no virgins with babies or prophets with camels, just bright colored lights, red, blue, green, white, big bulbs strung around his house, announcing to the world: I’m still here and I won’t let this winter turn the world dark. I will stand in defiance, all by myself if necessary, and light the world or at least this little part of it.
I suppose it’s just another expense in a year when most Americans have seen their income slashed, savings and pensions evaporated. The scrooges among us could never understand or appreciate the concept of one neighbor lighting up the way for another, for no particular reason, but just to stand against the dark for one more night. So I say light ’em if you’ve got ’em.
The song “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” was recorded by Bing Crosby in 1943. That must have been a tough year for many families in this country who had husbands, sons, fathers overseas fighting in World War II. And all these years later, we’re in other wars. So keep a light on for someone special, even if it’s someone unknown to you, who we hope will be coming home to spend time with the family for the holidays.F
Nancy A. Butterfield is an attorney working in Camarillo.