Christmas day falls very close to the solstice, and also to the shortest day of the year in North America. It finally got cold in Boston just this week. We had an extended remix of what we used to call “Indian summer,” and then briefly, “false summer,” before ceasing to mention it at all without a vague grumble about Al Gore. It’s below the freezing point of water, and the tiny birds sit on my frozen birdbath outside, looking vaguely confused. Cold enough that people hurry when they have to be outside, no matter how bright the sun.
It’s dark and cold. We seek the light and warmth. We light strings of little LEDs on our houses, bushes and trees, We set timers so that the cold dark house is a little bit festive when we get home. We bring together what family and friends we can. We eat and light fires and play music together. Some of us drink. We do what we can to drive back the dark, and it creates little islands of beauty.
I cannot help but notice the gaps between the lights. The 5pm darkness splits the world into little islands. There are people in those dark channels. I think of those missing from the table this year. Some are merely very far away, settled with family on other coasts, other countries, other continents. Others are dead and gone. The cemetery ground where they colloquially “sleep” is so very cold and hard this time of year.
I have a pile of cards, letters, pictures from friends and family. I treasure them. Every year there are fewer pictures of my friends, more pictures of their children. I love the children. The change of focus is poignant. I now know why sensible adults do not bother to photograph themselves so much as they did in years past.
The holidays are an emotionally hard time for most of us. No matter how bright the fire, everyone eventually pauses to look out a window at the snow and think of grandparents, parents, and other loved ones passed away. No matter how perfect the family, you cannot triple the number of people in a house without bumping up against old bruises.
Take a moment to call your family and friends today. Be gentle with each other. Give the old grudges and stress a rest – if only for a weekend.
Take some time for yourself to remember the ones for whom you seem to have lost the number – out there in the cold and the dark. Then come back to the fire and have some eggnog.
If nothing else, celebrate the fact that the shortest, darkest day of the year is passed. The days are getting longer. Spring is coming.