Perhaps it was the opulent Christmas Markets of Heidelberg, or lavish ones in Berlin with Gluhwein and funnel cakes. Or maybe the time I was a boy scout and we caroled for the elderly at an old folks home. They made us cookies and hot chocolate, we gave them hugs to remind them they weren’t alone.
Maybe it was the many years while living in Germany my sister and I would put out shoes out the front door, waiting for candies…or coal.
Perhaps it was the time I sled past a set of graves down a European hillside on Christmas Day, my snow suit failing, my face full of rocks and mud when we crashed.
Or the time my uncle and I dropped a snowman off a 10 story balcony to watch him explode.
Or maybe even the time that my mother and I spent Christmas Eve smoking cigars and drinking Puerto Rican eggnog.
There was even the time that I was in Berlin, coming back from Switzerland in the middle of a blizzard, the trains and U-Bahns closed, my walking a few miles to my home, arriving Christmas morning at about 3am. That was the first year I remember not wanting to get up at 5am to see what presents awaited me. My father knocked on the door. “We’re about to unwrap presents!” I growled and hissed and screamed, “LET ME SLEEP!”
Or the time my mother, after my parents divorced, came to visit me in Orlando in the 90’s. We roller bladed (that was the thing to do at the time) and had Christmas dinner in a Chinese restaurant. It was warm and we didn’t want to cook.
Or more recently, last year when Phillip and I had lasagna instead of a traditional Anglo Christmas dinner, only to find out MANY people eat lasagna on Christmas day. Big meal, big pan, lots of people to feed. Makes sense. Or as the lady at the Asian grocery said, “You have noodles for Christmas? You should. Bring long life.”
“Well, I’m having lasagna.”
“Same thing. Pasta good for long life.”
Or perhaps when I was homeless. I found a tree in the woods, didn’t cut it, just put strands of yarn around it, went close to it often when I was at my saddest, felt better, smiled and laughed aloud at how wonderful that tree was. I learned so much that Christmas. From having, to not having, I realized the trick was not in things I could hold, or shine, or show to other people in a little box. That Christmas made every Christmas worth every moment and memory and tradition, because it taught me that life is the gift of Christmas. Things do not perpetuate happiness. My only Christmas present that year was a candle, a scented one that smelled of apple and cinnamon. I couldn’t wait to light it. It became a long standing tradition. That flame, that kindness showed me something I never would have known had I nothing.
It was one simple candle lit near midnight to remind of why we have these traditions. We cling to each other, hold each other in the darkest moments of the winter, in the darkest moments of life. We cling to traditions and memories, we cling to the hope of life. And that is Christmas. Despite what you have or don’t, despite what you believe or don’t, regardless of who is with you, or who isn’t. And with all the great moments and memories I had previously had, I had been given the gift to remind of light. And of prayer. With what little I had, that candle burned to remind that the darkness would be over soon. Light always wins.
So, there on my altar, amidst all my prayers, is one simple candle to remind of everything that is important in Christmas: the promise of light, of love, of hope in our darkest times.
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