Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”
I’ve done the whole cactus Christmas thing — 80 degrees, lights on palm trees, nothing more than a light jacket as I shop for presents. No doubt the sunshine and warmth proved enjoyable, and in those moments, made me think I was born in the wrong state. But being back in Madison, WI these last two years has reminded me why I love the snow at Christmas time.
And in a sense, why I love Christmas.
We had an Indian Summer of sorts in WI this year, record high temperatures almost until Thanksgiving. Unintentionally, the decor in my brand new home matched the aura outside. You see, usually, I’m one of the first to put up Christmas decorations, often in early November. But since I’d offered to host Thanksgiving in that new house this year, I had to leave my fall decorations up longer. It bugged me that my beloved tree and lighted garland would have to wait until the end of November to make their appearance. And yet at the end of it all, the timing seemed fitting for when they came out…
Since that’s when the snow did.
When I looked out at those rolling hills covered in a shimmery white; the once-barren trees now eliciting a new found beauty with a blanket of fresh snow, the whitewashed farmhouses and fields in the distance, a sense of calm immediately washed over me.
The Christmas season has been a time of upheaval at many points in my life: living with my grandma one year during my parents’ difficult divorce, enduring the fallout of losing a friendship another year. During my late twenties especially, family members queries as to why I was still single added to a feeling of loneliness at certain times. And to that end, the seasons most recently have also been a reminder of loss – renewing grief in pointing out the obvious absence of my father.
Yet, through all of that, when that first Christmas song has been played (often sometime in early November), my troubles seem to dissipate.
One of my favorite Christmas memories is from Zurich. Zurich is not a whole lot warmer than my Midwestern hometown, with highs between 25 and 30 degrees Fahrenheit in December and January. Yet most restaurants still encourage sitting outdoors, offering big wool blankets to accompany the jacket and mittens you most certainly want to keep on. In December of 2013, after that most tumultuous year of my life, I sat there eating warm, gooey Swiss fondue amidst a backdrop of a giant lighted Christmas tree, lights extended around the square and up the streets, and even a small band playing acoustic carols. My mind had been swirling so much that year… so angry, so sad… but at that moment, those lights, that chill in the air, left me simply in awe of the beauty around me.
Oh Christmas lights light up the street
Light up the fireworks in me
May all your troubles soon be gone
Those Christmas lights keep shining on.”
Just like that night in Zurich, those lights, that refreshing chill in the air, that music, has worked wonders throughout the last two decades to quell feelings of grief and angst. When I’m on a walk around a neighborhood, mired by the glow of each lit-up house, there exists a tranquility, a stillness that reminds me there is so much good in the world, no matter what I may be facing.
I know as well as anyone what it’s like to be feeling pain this time of year – both emotional and physical. But as my favorite Christmas song reminds me every year, if you listen hard enough, you can hear the bells, sending a message of hope and love. My wish for you on this Christmas is that you can take a look around at those sparkling lights, take in a deep breath of that crisp (or even warm) air, listen to those bells, and find that special moment of calm.
Find the peace around you, and let it spark the peace within you.