The Gift of Light

By Julie Spangler

Once again it is the Season of Light in my world. Christmas, Hanukah, Diwali, Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere - all are festivals held at this time of year celebrating the return of the Light from the long darkness. In my household we have always celebrated both the Winter Solstice and Christmas, while holding respect for all others.

The Winter Solstice has been precious to me ever since I lived in northern Scotland many years ago where the longer nights in December are more pronounced than in Connecticut where I grew up. When darkness arrives for tea at 3:30 PM and stays until 9 AM, there is a natural feeling of in breath. I would huddle before a coal fire, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends, listening to the rain and wind blustering about outside while I stayed warm and quiet inside. It inspired me to breathe in and sit with myself – a time of reflection and stillness when the world sleeps, and I slow down. This inward stillness contrasted sharply with the summer liveliness which called me outside and into activity late into the bright night of the long day.

After returning to the US, getting married and starting a family, celebrations were of course centered around our children, and the dark stillness in our house was not so still. Our solstice celebration took place with friends who lived in the hills and had a 40 ft yurt in which was laid a pine bough spiral. At the beginning of the ceremony, the sole illumination was one lit candle standing in the center of the spiral, a reminder that even in the darkness there is always the One Light. Beginning with the youngest child, we each walked the spiral alone to the center to light our own candle. As we returned around the spiral, we carried our candle, bringing the light back out to our community, placing our candle somewhere along the spiral, illuminating it increasingly as we progressed from youngest to eldest. There is magic in such practices, the youngest one bravely and quietly walking along the dark spiral to the center to light the first candle and bring the light back out to the world, accompanied by our surrounding voices lifted in song – alone but supported by community. This particular yurt had a skylight at the top which would reflect the candle’s lights below it, looking like a celestial response to our small lights below, a galaxy of divine sparks – the heart glow of community. Such rituals are done all over the world on the longest night as the darkness is vanquished and the light returns. Magical indeed.

Christmas was - and still is - more complicated. With the commercial emphasis on Christmas beginning often before Halloween, it is easy to become overwhelmed and a little jaded by commercial excess not to mention the pounding of pop Christmas songs in the stores. There is a pressure put on gift buying that misses the point of this sacred holiday that celebrates the birth of the Christ – for me, the birth of the Christ within the heart of each of us.

But Christmas is also a time of magic – the magic of transforming our homes into sparkling wells of lights and color, of sharing love and the joy of being together, of taking on the mantle of Santa Claus bringing gifts to each other. It is a time set aside to remember that we are all sparks of Love walking the planet. It is a time of thinking of others and seeking ways to gift those in need. It is the season of Santa Claus, the jolly old elf who brings gifts and joy and ho ho ho’s. In our house, Santa is honored as a living presence who spreads the magic of hope and giving through our own hands and hearts.

We begin our Christmas celebration, sometimes before decorating has begun, with our favorite Christmas movie which is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, also known as Scrooge. The story of a dark and tortured man who, with the aid of three Spirits, finds his way towards transformation and rebirth has always been a staple of our family celebration. I believe we have at least 10 versions of it, and we must watch all of them. (There are at least 32 films of this story, including old black and white versions, musical versions, a Muppets version, Disney versions, animated versions, even a one-man version done by Patrick Stewart.)

Each one is a little different, but what all of them do is show us Ebenezer Scrooge, a dark blot on humanity, moving alone through his world spreading negative vibes of depression and hate, making people wilt and shy away from him. This man who was shut off from everything beautiful, deep into his own dark world of isolation and anger, was shown the way through his past life choices to the present and probably unpleasant future. This led him into a new choice, from a selfish material focus on the accumulation of wealth to one of valuing others and a recognition of his own capacity to love and to care for their wellbeing. He was given a good hard look at himself, and simultaneously at the joy and love shared by others around him from which he excluded himself. Thus inspired to change (admittedly through a certain amount of terror, but hey, let’s not quibble about the methods of Spirits), Scrooge’s heart opens and he sees his world through fresh eyes, full of the joy of life with loving generosity and caring for others. It is not unlike walking the dark spiral to the light at the center and bringing that inner light back out to share with his world.

Any story of transformation is inspiring, but this one, being centered around the spirit of Christmas, highlights those qualities that the Christ brought closer to our hearts. Qualities of love, of joy in life, of giving and caring for all of humanity, of being a source of Light for all the world. If one man can lift himself out of the darkness within, anyone can, and for each person lost in their inner darkness who is brought back into the Light that is his or her birthright, the whole world is brightened.

This is why when Christmas comes, in our house the music comes out, the lights and colors are decking the halls, and we lift our hearts in joyful celebration of the life and beauty of our world, of people caring for each other, of community, of family that is humanity. This is a deeply spiritual holiday for me, one that sings out the possibility for renewal and hope, for joy and peace on earth, and excludes no one. It is a celebration of the deep prayer, “Let there be peace on earth and good will toward all peoples”. And true to the nature of our family, it is also a celebration of fun, joy and laughter, for included in our collection of Christmas Carol movies are some that are spoofs of a treasured Spangler tradition… nothing is too sacred for a good laugh.

So from my hearth to yours, may laughter and joy, love and renewal grace your home this holiday. May the transformation that is always imminent open your heart to a greater love that is there within you. And may the growing light fill your eyes with visions of beauty and hope for the future. The light is ours to bring out, the love is ours to give, and the laughter is ours to delight in.

May This Season of Light Warm and Renew Your Heart.