This time of year is a dark, quiet one. The sun rises late and sets early — and in some places, it hides its face from night and day alike.
We try to fill the void of the sun with colored lights and candles, festive trees and bright decorations. It’s a time of year when the night rules the calendar. The symbolism in the many holidays that cluster around midwinter is rife with images of renewal, rebirth, of beginnings. The New Year, Christmas, Solstice, Kwanzaa, Hannukah — all these holidays are rooted in light, hope, and the start of something new even when they look toward the past.
Frankly, this winter has gotten off to an awful start for me. As of writing this, I have been sick for over three weeks. It started with a sore throat and stuffy nose and morphed into a racking cough, followed by earaches and a resurgence of symptoms. Pneumonia. Bronchitis. Sinusitis. Ear infections. I’ve had all of that since Thanksgiving.
It’s been a time where my husband and I had thought we were at financial rock bottom — only to find out that we had pickaxes in hand and were hacking away at the ground beneath our feet. I had to humble myself and ask for help. Publishing grinds to a halt, and my inbox has been a world of silence on my many queries.
And Sunday was the year anniversary of my cousin’s tragic death, the memory of which has fogged my emotions with the smoke of grief that still hasn’t faded. One of my closest childhood friends lost someone he loved on Sunday in an eerie parallel to what happened to my family one year ago.
Friday was a day none of us will easily forget. A day when we were reminded that no matter how much joy exists, there are people who cannot or will not drink from that cup and instead sow anguish and reap nothing but death.
The holidays will forever bear deep sorrow for Newtown, Connecticut and for the families who will spend these days crumpled by the agony of 26 small children and adults snuffed out from our world forever.
Bear with me. There’s a point buried under all these Job-like afflictions.
This is a dark time, both literally and figuratively.
But you know what they say about the darkest hour.
Three days from now will be the darkest day of the year. The sun will rise at 7:23 AM EST and set at 4:50 PM EST. It will be the longest night.
Five years ago, I had just returned from Poland. It was one of the darkest times in my memory. I had left a place I loved and come back to a city I didn’t want to call home. And on 22 December, I bundled up early in my warmest clothes and drove my sputtering, 15-year-old Nissan Sentra up to Red Rocks Amphitheater.
I gathered there with about fifty other people. Most of them had drums. And as the sky began to pale with the shy blush of the returning sun, the drums began to thrum. They started slow and sleepy, dimmed to a muted hush.
As the sky grew brighter over the Denver skyline and the flatlands of eastern Colorado beyond, the beat turned to a pulse. The cloud-dotted expanse above turned from jewel blue to pastel to the crystal white of milky quartz. The first golden rays of the newborn sun reached shining fingers over the frozen foothills, and the pulse quickened in both drums and veins until hands beat drum-skin and knees alike, lit with the fire of the world of day given first breath.
A month ago when we discussed the topic for this round of posts, I knew I would write a solstice post. I didn’t know just how much life would emulate the darkening celestial events. For many people, this time of year means deep pain. Loneliness and sadness, loss and grief.
But beyond the bustle of holidays and buying gifts, beyond seasonal depression or tragedy, the sun will return.
Whether you believe in the birth of the Christ child to a virgin or the festival of lights or if you track the sun’s path as it falls through a cross-shaped constellation before rising anew — whoever you worship or not at all, the sun will return.
It will warm the planet and birth new life. It will brighten the skies and nourish our bodies. The sun will return.
Oh yes, I have the unfortunate luck of being a Christmas Baby. I wasn’t born near Christmas, or the day before or the day after. No, no… I was born ON Christmas day. What really sucks is that I was actually two weeks late so I could’ve been born with a nice little cushion between me and that fateful day, but no. I guess, even then, I loved Christmas so much that I hung on until that day.
Yes, I love Christmas. I love the Solstice and Yuletide and everything it’s supposed to be about. No, I’m not going to get into the religious aspects versus the commercialism, don’t worry. I just love giving presents, the anticipation, the thought and even the kindness most of us remember to keep in mind as we go about our day to day lives during this time. I pull out our decorations the day after Thanksgiving and put up our tree and start making homemade presents and try to make the holiday last as long as possible.
But I kind of hate having my birthday on this awesome holiday. Let me explain why so, if you happen to have any friends or family who have this craptastic birthday too, you can have some sympathy for them.
Now, it has nothing to do with being the kid who never gets to have their mother bring in cupcakes for the whole class to pause and celebrate with you in grade school. No, because every kid born during the summer months has that issue too. But you are the kid that doesn’t really get to have a birthday party because so many of your friends are out of town or parents are too busy to bring them by. But that’s okay; you get over that as you get older.
One of the big issues is those jerks that whisper to you, “This present? This is for both your birthday AND Christmas,” as they hand you your present with a little wink. I get it, okay? It’s rough having to buy someone two presents during the gift giving season, but I’ll tell you, I’d rather you tell me, “This is your birthday present, sorry, couldn’t afford to get you a Christmas present as well.” Or vice versa. There’s no shame in that. But this dual gift crap? No. Because all I want to do is whisper back to you, “Remember that birthday present I gave you in June? Yeah, that was for both.” And then keep the Christmas present I got you for myself.
But I’ll tell you, I’ll take the dual present crap over the forgetfulness. Oh yeah. This is a big reason why I hate having my birthday on Christmas: PEOPLE ALWAYS FORGET. Of course I think a lot of the time, that “this present is for both” deal is actually people forgetting it’s your birthday and they’re just trying to cover their ass. I don’t need presents or cards, I’m an adult, but in this day of Facebook reminders, unlimited text messaging and minutes how hard is it to simply say, “Happy Birthday!”? Apparently, it’s pretty damn hard. A lot of people forget their Christmas-baby-friend’s birthdays. EVEN WHEN YOU SEE THEM ON CHRISTMAS DAY, LOOK THEM IN THE FACE AND SAY, “MERRY CHRISTMAS!” That always kills me. It’s awkward and really, it hurts. Just remember to say, “Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas!” It’s not hard.
But the biggest part that sucks? I love Christmas. Yeah, that’s it. I love Christmas and I don’t want to take away from that day with having a birthday. I know, it’s weird, all that ranting and I don’t want to share the day. But it’s because your birthday is your own, just for you, but Christmas is supposed to be for everyone. So you either go from not having a special time for yourself, or interrupting everyone else’s special day with your birthday. Again, awkward.
So I guess, all I’m really saying is, it’s not our fault that we’re born on Christmas but we don’t want to be forgotten either.
Do you have a craptastic birthday? Wanna share? Comment below for your chance to win a $50 Amazon Gift Card and three awesome ebooks by three amazing writers!
I love Christmas so much, I should have been born Claymation.
Seriously, you guys. December is my absolute favorite month of the year. I put my tree up the day after Thanksgiving, I listen to all sorts of holiday music, and I tend to go a little nuts buying gifts for my husband, who has long since learned to stop trying to control my inner elf.
When I was a kid, my mom really did Christmas right. She made our house into a wonderland, she played music all through the house, she enlisted us to decorate cookies and leave them for Santa. We even had a homemade cloth advent calendar with a little teddy bear that moved from room to room in his house, looking for Christmas. It added a little wonder to every day in December.
But one of my very favorite parts of the season has always been watching Christmas movies, from the stopmotion classics to National Lampoon to Love Actually. Nothing else can get me in the holiday spirit faster than watching, say, A Christmas Story. There’s something about watching those kids tear into their loot that makes me feel like a kid again, and that’s what the holiday spirit is all about.
It’s that childlike glee and wonder, the possibility of magic and of dreams coming true if you just wait and hold your breath. Every day in December is full of anticipation: Will it snow? When can I move the teddy bear on the advent calendar? What’s in those mysterious, bright packages under the tree? What gorgeous lights and other small signs of real-life magic will I see today?
It’s the generosity and the kindness you see in the season, too, but it’s mostly the magic that makes me smile a little easier for a whole month.
What’s your favorite part of the holiday season? What really gets you into that holiday magic spirit? Any favorite holiday movies I haven’t listed here?