As the days got longer this year, I found it darker than usual. It’s been a rather dark time — and in the darkness, there is an abundance of quiet — so much quiet that I haven’t been able to find the words to blog. Don’t worry — nothing in particular has been wrong — yet still the heavy darkness. I find in those times, it’s best to hibernate, take care of only the essentials. Re-group. Re-center. Eventually, rejoice at a glimmer of light.
And so, I wanted to tell you where I have found some light this year . . . because we can always use a little more light.
The Winter’s Solstice came in the nick of time. Knowing we had just passed the “longest day of the year” I knew that the light is on its way. The next morning was a frosty, chilly one with a layer of ice on the deck, treacherous to walk on. I was trying to bring the dog back inside after letting him out for his morning business and he was refusing to listen (I swear, the dog has selective hearing). I was about to grab the flashlight to shine into the dark backyard when I looked up, in frustration. A shooting star! I quickly made a wish — and then the dog came running, almost as if by magic. I took that as a sign that light was beginning to shine.
I willed myself to look for the light everywhere. I was sure it was there. And that’s when the tiniest of Christmas miracles happened. Stories. I remembered that so much light is found in our stories: the ones we read, the ones we live, the ones we share.
When our girls were little, my book addiction compelled me to collect dozens upon dozens Christmas and holiday picture books. For years, we kept them in big, plastic bins that we brought out each Thanksgiving. We would read from that bin every night from Thanksgiving until Christmas. Some books, our favorites, we’d read over and over again. When you put away a treasured story for a year, you relish it all the more when the season is right again. Last year, I decided to put them into the bookshelves upstairs, just in case I needed them sooner. It seemed like a good year to have them close at hand.
So, last week, in looking for light, I ran upstairs and grabbed my all-time favorites. While each of us have our own unique stories of family and friendship, memories of growing up and growing older, these picture books are stories that touch all of us, in one way or another. As my Christmas present to you, here they are:
“The Christmas Crocodile” by Bonny Becker is a very funny little romp through the mishaps of a mistaken Christmas delivery: a crocodile who gets into all kinds of trouble. I cannot tell you how many times we giggled through this one, the girls loving the crocodile’s madcap mischief — Husband and I chuckling at how familiar the crocodile (who “didn’t mean to be bad”) resembled young children everywhere. So much light is tucked into this wonderful tale.
Then there are these two, which I have tucked under the tree. They might be my very favorites (save for one, which I’m saving for last).
“The Night Tree” by Eve Bunting is about a young family who packs the car on Christmas Eve to drive out to the woods where they look for “their” tree. Once they find it, we think they’re going to chop it down for their living room, but instead, they decorate it with edibles for the forest critters and sing carols under the moonlight as they sip hot chocolate. The illustrations by Ted Rand are beautiful tapestries of light. After the family leaves for home, everyone tired and sleepy, the critters come out of their hiding places for their Christmas feast. It’s a story that will make you want to start your very own tradition like this one.
“Christmas Day in the Morning” by Pearl S. Buck is a treasure. In this story, a young boy who lives on a farm with his family, gets up much earlier than his dad on Christmas morning so he can complete all the farm chores and then scurries back into bed, holding his breath, as his dad starts to stir. The gift is the son’s love in action, of course, and I can’t even get through telling you about the rest of the story without getting choked up. I will leave it to you to find this one and read it for yourself. It’s a classic, full of light.
Finally, there’s this one:
“The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry is the ultimate story of giving from the heart. It’s “generosity added to love” which makes the heart attach itself to this timeless story. Somehow, my copy was lost this year. I searched high and low, through bookshelves and boxes, in drawers and closets; it was nowhere. I was heartbroken — so I ran to my Amazon Prime account and ordered another copy asap. It arrived just in time to remind me that sometimes we must make an extra effort to find the light in our lives — that it’s not just out there shining brightly. Sometimes light has to be uncovered, rediscovered.
That leaves me with the ultimate story of light — the light for all ages. The story of the tiny baby Jesus, born in a stable, in the darkest of times. The story of the bright light of angels and the Star of Bethlehem. The story of looking for a place of rest, a place to begin anew. The story of traveling through the darkness and chaos, following a beam of light. It’s this story that teaches us everything we need to know about the pairing of darkness and light; it’s this story that teaches us about hope. In this story, we learn that finding light isn’t necessarily easy, but it’s a glorious thing.
The truth, though, is that every religious tradition — every secular connection as well — is rooted in stories of light. Light casts out darkness and uncertainty — it shines with love. So today, no matter where you are, or what you celebrate, I wish for you light. Beams and beams of glorious, blinding, love-filled light. May the coming year shine brightly for all of us.