When school starts in August, it’s hard to get excited about singing Christmas music in preparation for the December choral concert. It seems just wrong to have the air conditioner in the choir room rattling while we work through a“Hodie,” but August moves to September and September to October and there’s frost on the windshield in the morning and we begin to get out coats. Then after Halloween, Christmas stuff begins to show up the big box stores and by a few days before Thanksgiving, the street decorations go up. At this point, people begin to complain that Thanksgiving is forgotten and that it’s far too early for lights. The complaints about how commercial Christmas has become and how it’s worse every year become a chorus. I used to be one of those complainers. But one day, just before Thanksgiving about 30 years ago, I was driving down Main Street thinking that it was far too early for them to be putting up the street decorations, when my 4 year-old daughter spoke from the back seat. “Oh, I was wondering when they were going to put up the wreaths.” Her voice was filled with true wonder. I stopped my inner complaining immediately, shook myself and realized that I loved her wonder.
Some of the difference, I am sure, has to do with how children and adults experience time. If you are four, a year is an age. A four-year-old hardly understands weeks and months. It is astounding to a four-year-old that something she experienced in what seems to be the distant past is reoccurring. To us, the arrival of Christmas decorations is another reminder that time is flying by. It is a reminder of all things, both joys and cares that the holiday season brings. We feel the stress of too many parties, too many gifts. We worry about children’s disappointment. We know how much we have to do; however, Christmas doesn’t have to be about commercialism. It’s possible never to enter one of the big box stores. It’s possible to decide to do simple gifts or none. It is possible to be deeply Christian, and it is also possible to see the holiday as it was before Christianity, as a celebration of the return of the light. It is also possible to see Light as metaphorical as well as physical. This is, after all, what all the lights and the candles are about, the simple and the metaphorical light/Light.
As the darkness gathers closer in December, I light candles in my kitchen every night. I love the way the flames reflect off the dark windows. I go outside and stand under a sky filled with stars that always seem crisper in the winter air. I listen to the old music, and I go to choir practice tired but joyful.
Now, so many years later, I can’t see the street decorations being put up a few days before Thanksgiving without thinking about my daughter’s four-year-old voice from the back of the car. Each year she reminds me of anticipation and wonder.