I read an article online today promising tonight, Winter Solstice 2014, is the longest night ever in the history of our planet. Because the earth always moving from the sun due to IMAGINE SCIENCTIFICAL-TYPE STATEMENTS HERE ‘CAUSE I WAS TOO LAZY TO COPY THEM, which therefore means that today is roughly two seconds longer than last year. Tonight is the longest night we’ve ever experienced.
This alarms me.
I realize in checking the spelling of ‘exaggerate’ three times I already used up those extra two seconds allotted to our spinning planet this year, but it still freaks me out. Some days I look around me and I worry the darkness is winning. There are cops being killed in Florida tonight, possibly in retaliation for the killing of an unarmed black man. Our country is dealing with the after-effects of yet another racially-convoluted killing. How many people of color need to be slaughtered before we, on an institutional level, start saying, “No more deaths. We have to figure this out.”
It would be one thing if this were the first, shocking instance. But on the night before I was born in 1967, mom could see the McDonalds burning down across the street. She thought, ‘What kind of world?’ These were the Detroit Race Riots. Followed by a lot of incidents between then and now. So, you know, this isn’t new news.
Sometimes our world feel like the longest night. The darkest night. Will it ever get better?
And, hey. Happy holidays.
For me, the holidays are a combination of my best memories and a few of my least-favorite. Luckily, awesomeness outshines the bad, but that does not mean I feel both freely. Tired and needing a break, this year, I opted out of Christmas.
I didn’t know you could do that.
Other times, when I’ve missed Christmas at home, they were exceptions and had good reasons. I’ve had a lot more years in my hometown than away.
One year, Ann and I drove to Mississippi to do cleanup after Hurricane Katrina. An intense experience grieving and loving strangers. My first Christmas away from my family. When I called home on Christmas Eve, they passed the phone around and I sat in the back seat of my car and imagined the smells in mom’s house. Fresh gingerbread. Roast beef.
Peppermint burning candles.
Last year, Ann and I drove to Galveston, Texas and treated ourselves to a vacation. Another first. I’d never spent a holiday pampering myself with my best friend in a gorgeous location. The experience was shocking to me. Liberating and naughty.
This year, I’m skipping the holiday claiming exhaustion and no vacation days. Both are true. And though I’ve seen family a lot this past year including Thanksgiving weekend, this is a lost opportunity to see family. No decorating gingerbread cookies with siblings on Christmas Eve morning. Beautiful friends in the twin cities have offered me invites. And yet, I want to see who I am without the holiday. I want to see who shows up.
And on the plus side, I didn’t have to put up outside lights this year.
Although I do like looking at all the lights. I will admit to my well-orchestrated neighbors, I’m impressed. Sorry for not doing my part this year, but good job.
They’re pretty, right? Regardless of religion or creed, we all agree that colored lights on a charming, snow-covered home is something we can appreciate as having a kind of loveliness. You don’t have to live here to appreciate that. You can nod to the north and share that appreciation from Texas. And still think, ‘They’re insane to live in that snow.’
Lights are pretty.
Obviously, I’ve been a little torn about the holidays. Happy to have zero shopping, and no decorating responsibilities. But sad, because it’s fun to get caught up in the excitement of gift giving and wrapping, and seeing surprise on a loved one’s face. There’s some real beauty in this season.
Friday night I was chatting with my friend Joel, and explaining my missing out. Joel and I talked about a number of things, previous holiday experiences, the good and the bad. At one point, he sounded distracted I asked him what he was doing. He explained that he was untangling his lights.
I asked, “Christmas tree?”
Just asking that made me miss all my favorite Christmas ornaments and remembering I would not see them for at least another year.
“No, a solstice tree. Just white lights. Last year, I dried out orange slices and placed them on the tree to represent the sun. They turned out really well.”
“Why celebrate the longest night?”
I was feeling a little contrary, I guess. Maybe I was looking for something to celebrate. I had been dwelling on the darkness all around us. Institutionalized racism. Revenge killings. So many wrongs still need to be righted.
Joel said, “I celebrate what happens next. The light. Days start getting longer.”
We talked about it and though I have plenty of friends who celebrate Solstice, I had never really given it much thought and I now found myself intrigued, the idea of celebrating nothing but the light. The light comes back. Weakly at first, but it’s coming back. Though January and February must unfurl with blizzards for us to slog through, still the light grows stronger.
And so do we.
By the time we hung up, I had found the clear lights in my basement storage and selected which potted plant to decorate, my Norfolk Pine, a former Christmas tree. I realized what I had been missing by not participating in Christmas this year. The ability to celebrate with others. To just feel celebratory.
Maybe this week is the anniversary of Jesus’ birth. Maybe it’s a marketing campaign masterminded by a hungry world religion. Who cares? Can we just say, Merry Christmas and let the words mean, ‘I celebrate you in your language.’ Happy Chanukah and Blessed Be if that’s what they want to hear. If we can’t celebrate the ideological differences or embrace each other’s life experiences, maybe we can still find surprising common ground.
Without agreeing on the target, we can celebrate being people who love to celebrate.
I awoke this morning excited to celebrate my non-celebratory year. I created a list of 34 things I’d like done this week. House projects mostly. Cupboards and storage things cleaned up. Piles sorted. I am getting rid of 50 items from this house. I make tic marks on the massive chore sheet. This is my celebration, and I gotta tell ya, I like making lists and checking things off.
I’m also seeing a few friends, so do not fret over me. I’m not completely isolated.
While scrubbing old water stains on the basement floor this afternoon, I spied the tub of Christmas decorations and decided to add one of my favorite ornaments, a cardboard bungalow home almost identical mine, intricately carved and hand-painted, crafted by an ex-boyfriend from my youth. Also, a jade elephant from Ireland made the tree, the last elephant from Ireland, sent to me by ridiculous, wonderful people. New friends.
I would never know them except for the internet.
Had a little shopping to do so I ended up going to Target. I chatted happily with the checkout lady and I was surprised she had so much good cheer, working in such a demanding environment, hour after hour. She celebrated me.
In another grocery store, a meat company employee offered me a cocktail wiener. He tried to explain the unique grilling flavor, but I cut him off immediately with “Yes, please. Yes.”
I love little cocktail wieners at holiday parties.
And, the taste of these guys! The rich flavor was tangy-grilled without tons of barbeque sauce (which I also like). Surprisingly perfect. I chatted with him about his hot dogs and then eagerly bought a package. He said thank you to me, and he was sincere.
A few aisles later, I was humming the Christmas carols, vaguely echoing the music swimming above me and feeling very happy about celebrating and not-celebrating. I am someone who welcomes the light. At the end of the aisle, I ran into a woman who only had a few things in her basket which included two packages of the amazing cocktail wieners.
I jabbed my finger at them and said, “You got suckered into that taste test.”
With a surprised seriousness she said, “Those were really good.”
“I bought them, too, see? What is it about those things?”
We chatted about hot dogs and holiday parties for another few sentences and went on our way. She will never know me, hell, she doesn’t even remember me at this point. But we were light to each other, for a split second. She might stand for everything I detest. I might be her worst liberal nightmare. But we chose to be light.
Tonight, I welcome the longest night.
C’mon, darkness, settle in. Depress us. Convince us there is no hope for morning. We will end you, longest night. We end you with a festival of lights. Kwanzaa. Chanukah. Christmas. And those who look at anyone in that pile and say, “You people are crazy.” We celebrate them, too.
People who find cocktail wieners disgusting and people like me.
All of us, together.
When we celebrate each other, we cannot be stopped.
We are the light.