My father loved Christmas – the music, the food, the family and above all, the lights. Our decorations were the talk of the neighborhood. Every window and door, every bush and tree was outlined in brilliant green lights. Three of the neighbors got into the spirit and outlined their houses in red, blue and white respectively. My dad added wooden figures of candles, a choirmaster and choirboys, and then piped out Christmas music that floated through the bare trees and across the Toronto snow.
And at a time when Christmas lights were not particularly showpieces, our stodgy street became a Christmas destination. Cars would growl slowly past. People would stand on the sidewalk, heads turning in pleasure, and my father would go outside and chat, welcoming them all.
My mom and dad grew up on the prairies, facing the world during the Depression. My Dad was the banker who fought with head office to help farmers keep their land; my mother’s family ran a general store. She told me about the men who would come in and cry because they had no money left to buy food for their families. Her parents gave them credit anyway and the debts to their wholesalers ate away their own chances of future financial security. My father’s home went for taxes when his father died. My grandmother was still teaching in a remote corner of Manitoba in her 70s because, despite years of hard work, they had nothing back.
But they knew Christmas. They knew the joy of gathering family around because life is uncertain and hard; they knew that a Christmas gift worth little, or maybe only a rare orange in a stocking, was what Christmas was about. They knew that the old songs, sung again decade after decade, are the hymns of survival and all that is good about being human. They celebrated with everyone, including their Jewish friends. To them, Christmas was about the open happiness of joy and sharing.
As a cranky teen, I remember lying on my parents’ bed beside the green-glowing window, hearing the richness of Nat King Cole’s voice calling, “Joy to the world!” and feeling the ease in my angsty soul that only love and generosity can bring.
And now once again, where despite the clever twists of words and policy, we are living in a world where war and destruction are ravaging, hatred and meanness are walking, and contentment and hope are corroding. Many of us are afraid, angry and helpless. We are watching as good people lose their land, men cry because they cannot feed their families, and the number of people who need help are more than we can count.
We are within a cruel time in history.
But, within history, we have our answers and our hope. This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine…
We have the ringing demand, that we offer Peace on earth, good will towards men.
And I believe, as my mother and father did, that every Christmas light is a promise of goodness, hope, and generosity towards all. Every twinkling tree and glowing string hanging on a garage gutter is a promise to ourselves and to our shared future. A moment of beauty and peace before we take up the struggle again. A chance to breathe, to remember that our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents fought for fragile peace and goodwill as well. They too, lit candles and strung lights against the dark nights.
All my family, all my people stretching back over years, hope that every light brings great joy to your life and future.