In The Close and Holy Darkness
Several years before he died my Father, who loved Christmas with the passion of a child, came home with a new-fangled Christmas tree. Small enough to fit on a table, it held no threat to the large fir tree that always stood by the fireplace, but it commanded a certain unique attention nonetheless. It was a fiber optic tree, changing colours as though bewitched whenever you plugged it in. Mother tolerated it because she loved Daddy, but Daddy simply adored that crazy tree and would turn off all the lights to show it off to any and all visitors. Having inherited his love of the holiday season, I myself put up three large trees in my house but have now also found the perfect spot for his strange, colourful oddity on the screened porch off my bedroom. On cold, dark nights, when I wrap up in a tartan blanket and sit beside it, that tree swirls its outlandish light all around me and I swear I can hear the holiday laughter of my Dad. Another wonderful memory given to me by my Father.
As someone blessed with the invaluable gift of a happy childhood, I am beholden to tradition. In doing the same things in the same way every Christmas, I perform a conjuring more potent than any wizard could master. Those who’ve gone on before glitter and glow all around me and incarnations of my former selves follow me round, giggling and grinning, emitting the ethereal warmth of sweet memory. Every year I stir my famous Christmas fudge with the same wooden spoon that rested in my Mother’s hands as she did the exact same thing December after December. Every year I unwrap a tiny, perfect porcelain angel and place it on the side table in my sitting room. It was given to me by my Great-Aunt Susie the year I was born. I always watch White Christmas when I wrap presents and I always listen to A Child’s Christmas in Wales each and every Christmas Eve. My voyages into the past at this festive season are as sweetly anticipated as any summer holiday and my memories are all the tickets I need.
There are those in my life not blessed as I, for whom the holiday season holds no comforting memories but only the pain of loss and lack. The past is not a country they wish to visit and Christmas only underscores this feeling. But if the Holy season teaches us anything, it is that life can begin again - hope can blossom on the deadest branch, love can rise from ash. As I learned from my Dad through that strange little tree he brought home late in his life, we are never too old to create new memories that are destined to delight our souls and bring a special enchantment to this season of joy.
Three years ago a new family moved into our neighborhood. Their first Christmas here they put on a live nativity play, complete with sheep and donkeys, with neighbourhood children in the roles of the Holy family, the shepherds, the wise men and the angels. This charming production has continued and last night I stood in the cold with my hands in my pockets alongside my neighbors to watch this year’s performance take place. A tiny little blonde in a pink dress with homemade paper wings swung her arms back and forth as she said to us all, “Fear Not, for Behold, I bring you Good Tidings of Great Joy” and I smiled, feeling privileged to be present at the creation of so many shining new memories. For make no mistake, this little girl will remember this cold night in December; her heart is now engraved with the magic of this event. Like a good fairy, it will wait for her in the close and holy darkness of each Christmas as the magic of my memories wait for me.
May we always be mindful of the memories we are fashioning, for ourselves and for others. While no one can change their past, we all possess astonishing power over our futures. It is my prayer to create as many happy memories as I possibly can, particularly over the festive season. I wish the same for each and every one of you.
Happy, Merry Christmas to you All.