Light in the Darkness

I have been thinking a lot lately about keeping the presence of God this Advent and Christmas. Amidst all the busyness and the short dark days, how can I remember that we are preparing to celebrate the Light of Love which pierced the darkness so many years ago? How can I take consolation in that when I am worried or grieving, especially when others around me seem happier or more fulfilled?

St. Josemaria Escriva taught his friends to greet Our Lord and Our Lady when they saw statues and images on their daily walks to work and school. We don’t live in Spain, and so most of us probably don’t see grottos and niches dedicated to the saints placed here and there along the way. What then can serve as our reminders that God is accompanying us, and that everything is good if we keep His presence?

Many years ago, a friend encouraged me to find Christ in the secular holiday decorations as well as the religious ones. If you know the stories and the symbols, you know that Christmas trees, wreaths and candles are for Christ, even if those shop owners and neighbors who put them up don’t keep your Advent and Christmas tradition. Santa himself points to Christ, if we choose to see him that way.

The most ubiquitous decoration, and the one which takes my breath away, are the Christmas lights. White or colored, elegant or tacky, well done or a little bit askew, Christmas lights grab our attention when night seems to begin at 5 o’clock. I am so grateful to my neighbors who take the time to put lights out, because they are a huge source of joy to me and to my children. I try to make sure that I link that joy to a sense of presence of God, which can sustain my from my drive home in the early evening through until bedtime, so many hours later.

I was surprised the other night when my son asked, from the back of the van, if we could do our “tradition” and take a slow lap around the neighborhood to enjoy the lights. I guess I’ve done this every year since we lived in New Jersey, and it has made an impression on the children. Here’s to a Christmas tradition which is free, takes no advance planning and no special outfits, and gives a little joy and peace!. We compare and contrast the decorations, some kids love that the pediatrician’s house has thousands of white lights, others prefer the single colored tree in front of another home. The last house in our neighborhood has two large, symmetrical windows and there is a huge, lit Christmas tree in each one. We stop in front of that house and stare. The first year I cried because I was pregnant and exhausted and overwhelmed by the beauty. It felt like a gift from God to me, that beautiful house. Now I cry every year when I drive up to that house, still overwhelmed and grateful for the Light in the darkness.

  • http://www.buildingcathedrals.com/ Kellie

    I love this post because I am a huge fan of Christmas lights! They always make me think about how Christ is the light, and how it is so fitting that he comes during this very dark and dreary time of year. Beautiful stuff.

    • Mary Alice

      The great irony is that I am terrible at putting up lights, and so I wind up being so appreciative of the neighbors whose efforts make this joy possible for me and for my children! We put some lights on our bushes this year, but I would love to do more in the future if I could figure out how to do it without stress and danger! Electricity and extra cords outside make me nervous, and we don’t have many outlets, so keeping it safe is a concern.

  • Katrina

    I love that – rather than complaining about the secularization of Christmas, why not find Christ in all of it! Thanks for this post, MA!

    • Juris Mater

      Agreed–inspired by this post, I’m going to make a greater effort to find Christ in other people’s Christmas attempts, rather than getting mad about how much more secular and materialistic Christmas seems to become every year.

  • Juris Mater

    Could someone elaborate on how Santa points to Christ? It’s clear to me how St. Nicholas does, but his feast day was already celebrated, and lying to kids about Santa on Christmas morning seems ill-conceived in so many ways. http://www.altcatholicah.com/altcatol/a/b/mca/4544/ In our family, Dec. 25 is Jesus’ birthday and we don’t do any Santa action then.

    • Bethany

      JM, we’ve gotten some really sweet books over the years, helping to link Santa to our hopefully Christ-centered Christmas. One is Santa’s Favorite Story by Hisako Aoki and Ivan Gantschev which has Santa telling the story of Christ’s birth to some furry friends in the North Pole woods. It and the illustrations are child-like and sweet. Last year, our Papa bought the kids a little statue of Santa kneeling before baby Jesus with the accompanying book–A Special Place for Santa by Jeanne Pieper. It involves the current day Santa finding his purpose in a church, relating him back to St. Nicholas, and ultimately having him kneel at the altar. The kids really enjoy it. Whether or not you do “Santa” as a family, he’s out there and there’s hearing about him, so you might want to use stories like these to make some sense of all of it!

    • http://www.buildingcathedrals.com/ Kellie

      We do Santa on Christmas morning without lying to our children. It helps that our amazing Parish Priest incorporates the Santa tradition into Christmas Eve Mass at our Parish–it is truly easy to avoid ever really talking about Santa much and still have your children believe!

      At the Children’s Mass on Christmas Eve, Santa (dressed just like the Bishop St. Nicholas), comes into the Parish, solemnly walks down the aisle with our Priests little dog, and silently kneels before the baby Jesus. He carries a bag of presents. He explains to all the children that he give gifts to honor Christ’s birthday. Our Priest then asks him to take his little dog Mickey along for the ride, and to bring something special to the rectory. It is all very cute and sweet and very Christ-centered. Of course my older children know now that Santa is not real, but a special character in the tradition of St. Nicholas who gives gifts in honor of Christ.

      For both cultural and family reasons, it has been important to us to incorporate Santa into our Christmas traditions. Our little ones all still believe, and our big kids love to play along now too. I think for me, coming from a Protestant background where they tried to strip the faith down to its bare bones (at my old Church a contingent of people were against Christmas trees because they were distracting!) I have a special love for cultural/faith traditions that add to the celebration. Can it be a distraction — absolutely. But so can Christmas trees and Christmas lights and all the other fun traditions out there that are only tangentially related to Christ.

      And if you are looking for some great Santa stuff, check out Tolkien’s letters from St. Nicholas. What an experience it would have been to grow up with him as your father!

      • Mary Alice

        We also love Tolkien’s letters from St Nicholas, and the main reason that I love Santa is because of the appearance of Father Christmas in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. When Father Christmas comes, it is a sign that the witch’s power, wherein it is winter and never Christmas, is coming to an end. When we have winter without Christmas, as under Soviet Rule, then we know that we are really in trouble. As long as people are celebrating Christmas, I have a lot of hope.

        Also, there is Chesterton on Santa Claus, I am going to actually post that separately.

        Santa’s note to my children always talks about the Nativity, and my kids also love to “secret santa” each other, each choosing one name and thinking of a gift for that person.

        • http://www.buildingcathedrals.com/ Kellie

          Totally forgot about Father Christmas and I am always very moved by that scene.

  • Bethany

    I get teary, thinking of you getting teary at the lights at the house. Very touching… I’m going to remember the thought “light piercing the darkness” when I look at the beautiful lights this year. Thank you!

  • Lindsay

    I wonder if my kids are too little and will just fall asleep if I drive around with them when it’s dark to look at the lights in our neighborhood, but this gives me hope! Christmas lights also have a special place in my heart because one of my first dates with my husband was driving around to see the lights with a cup of hot chocolate on hand.


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