by Susan Peatfield
We are now firmly on the countdown to Christmas. Whether we are expecting a houseful for the holidays, or just have to organize ourselves, this is a busy and expectant time.
Many of us will treasure happy memories of childhood Christmases. The excitement of decorating the tree; the joyful anticipation on Christmas Eve of opening our eyes next morning to see the presents waiting for us; the sound of Christmas songs and carols; the delicious seasonal tastes and smells of spices and good things to eat and drink: the lights in shops and streets; the flickering candles of Advent and the warm glow of our homes in the cold of winter.
Christmas itself lights up this season of the year. As the year gets older and darker towards the solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, our earliest ancestors protected themselves against the darkness by lighting fires and feasting and celebrating the hope for the sun’s return.
Our traditions draw on these older ones – the yule log and hot spiced drinks date from earlier times. The true meaning of Christmas though is sometimes only glimpsed today, in amongst all the tinsel and noise.
Recapturing some of our childhood wonder is one of the gifts of Christmas. This is not nostalgia but a reawakening – opening our eyes again – to all the season holds. And, again, it is in our homes that we can capture the glow.
A beautiful tradition of Advent is to make a wreath of fragrant evergreens – pine, ivy, holly and wintersweet – around five candles. Four candles represent the four Sundays in Advent, and week by week first one candle, then two, three, four and then on Christmas Eve the fifth and final candle is lit. Lighting our journey to Christmas. Although these are a centerpiece of churches in Advent they are very appropriate and meaningful decorations for our homes too.
Another way of letting this light shine is to have a special place for the Christmas story in your home. It can be a lovely activity, if you have young children, for them to arrange the figures of the Holy Family. Remember that the figure of the Baby Jesus is not placed in the manger until midnight on Christmas Eve. It might be that this is the “privilege” of the youngest child – in which case they can do it before they go to bed. It can also be very powerful for everyone to gather at the crib on Christmas morning and to see the Baby Jesus there.
Keep the light of Christmas shining through the celebrations by taking a few minutes each day to light a small candle by the crib and to be warmed and nourished by all that this wonderful season brings to us.