We expect great things this time of year.
No wonder, for the winter holidays set expectations high.
December 21’s winter solstice promises us that, Big Picture, everything will turn out all right. Despite the gathering chill, we will not spin off into the frozen blackness of space. Light now begins its slow gain. Sunset moves later day by day from its earliest, 4:44pm on December 12, until by January 1 we have gained 10 minutes of evening light. Sunrise soon moves earlier each morning from its latest, 7:25am on December 30, until by January 31 we have gained 12 minutes of morning daylight. Warmth will return with the light. By vernal equinox in March, Earth quickens with life.
Christmas on December 25 makes an even bigger promise. That holiday celebrates God’s coming to Earth in the form of a human baby. Growing into a man, he knew our joys and sorrows even until death. Rising from the dead, he promised to lift us up with him. Nowadays, even on the feast of his birth, Christians know what’s coming at Easter — and into eternity.
As if that’s not enough, here comes Santa Claus, flaunting the laws of physics to ride down from the North Pole in a reindeer-drawn sleigh filled with toys destined to be delivered — in one long night — to every girl and boy the whole world over.
Next comes Hanukkah, beginning at sunset on December 24 this year, illuminating the Jewish world with its own miracles: victory over oppressors and enduring light, symbolized by the eight days of the feast. Nowadays, that’s eight more reasons to bring out the gifts.
Not to mention New Year’s Day, when we agree to believe that we, too, will change for the better.
No other time of year sets such high stakes. Or makes such high demands. So try as we might, our holidays do not always live up to our expectations. Your festive efforts mean less to everybody else than they do to you. One side of the family feels slighted comparing their share of your attentions to the share on the other side. The people who join your celebration don’t join you in values. The wrong present breaks somebody’s heart. The plum pudding falls. Or worse, sets the kitchen on fire. You’re all alone on Christmas.
Try as you might, the transformative promise of the season doesn’t trickle down to you.
Disappointment is the pivot point of the annual Christmas story you’ll read in this very paper, written this year with heart, skill and humor by Victoria Clarkson.
Christmas morning, she writes, “found me sitting in holiday traffic on a two-hour journey to my mother’s house, crammed in the minivan with six cranky kids, listening to holiday music for the sixth week in a row. Three of the children had already asked Are we there yet? One child had to go to the bathroom, and another was torturing her baby sister.
“Christmas at Mom’s house was never going to be like the homecoming at the Walton’s or George Bailey’s in It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Read it and rejoice with her in that holiday’s redemption from a most unlikely source.
Victoria’s story is truth, not fiction, and therein is cause for wider hope.
It’s solstice hope, of the sort that comes in tiny steps — steps as small as one minute a day — but stealthily reaches a critical mass as when winter yields to spring.
That’s how I expect the light — the rebirth of hope — to come.
May you have a bright solstice. A blessed Christmas. An illuminating Hanukkah. And a happy new year!
Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; firstname.lastname@example.org
Plus a life in stories: www.sandraolivettimartin.com