The winter solstice has come and gone and with it, “the darkest evening of the year,” to quote Robert Frost. The ancients feared the growing darkness and wondered whether they had displeased the gods. Today, we still fear the dark. It harbors the unknown. And that is why December is the month of the lights.
It starts slowly in mid-November. I start to see strings of white or brightly colored lights on a few homes around time – even the occasional Christmas tree proudly standing in a living room window. I always make the same comment (“Too soon!”), but secretly, I begin to long for this hint of the holiday to come.
To be sure, Christmas is not the only holiday that celebrates with light. Hanukkah is known as the Festival of Light, and it celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over their oppressors. The miracle of Hanukkah, the oil in the lamp that lasted 8 days instead of one, is represented by the nightly lighting of the menorah. Likewise Kwanzaa involves the lighting of candles as part of its celebration.
When I was a child, my father would take us through a Chicago neighborhood called Sauganash to see the dazzling lights displays. To this day, people from all parts of the city can be seen in lines of cars wending their way through Sauganash to gape at the gorgeous displays.
As a mother, I decided to recreate the childhood wonder I felt at this spectacle by taking my own kids out to “Candy Cane Lane,” which is what people called a small area of Westchester, a nearby suburb. I would dress the kids in their pajamas on a winter night, and we would find our favorite houses and favorite decorations, which could be decidedly over the top. We would listen to Christmas songs, and when we were done, I would stop at a nearby donut shop and buy the kids donuts and hot chocolate.
Over the years, Candy Cane Lane has started to fade. The kids have grown up and are not so eager to hop in a car and just drive around with Mom anymore. But I retain my sense of awe at Christmas lights displays. Sure, they are a lot of work, and people often spend hundreds of dollars to have them put up professionally. But for me, they are a beautiful reminder of the meaning of the season – the birth of Jesus.
The gospel of John states, “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” Looking at the spectacular light shows of Christmas, it’s easy to believe.