Several years ago, somewhere between ten and fifteen, I was driving down the road on the late afternoon of a drizzly February day. Everything around me was gray: the road, the sky, the homes, my mood. I felt weary from a busy day and the gloomy atmosphere only added to my fatigue.
Then, in the midst of the gray, I came upon a beautiful sight - a home still brightly lit with Christmas lights. The contrast of the color to the dismal day was so striking I slowed my car to take it in. My first thought was "It's February. Enough already." my second thought was that they were lazy and hadn't taken the lights down yet. My third thought rang true. They had enjoyed the holiday season so much they didn't want to see it end. They were holding on to it by keeping up the lights.
I was jealous. The holidays had not been like that for me. It had been chaos from October on. So many events were on my calendar. I tried to create the perfect holiday atmosphere for my small children. We had parties and concerts and performances and presents. The list went on and on. By the time Christmas morning came I was miserable. I didn't enjoy the magic of Santa or the delight of opening gifts. I was too worn out from taking care of everything. For weeks after just thinking of Christmas made me physically sick.
Looking at the brightly lit house reminded me that something was wrong with the way I was celebrating Christmas.
For some reason I could not get the sight of that house out of my mind. Months passed but randomly my thoughts would jump to the color and the lights and the joy I felt from that simple display. It was a nudge to do things differently. I didn't know how.
As Fall came again and the holidays approached I felt a familiar tension. I loathed the idea of preparing for Christmas. I knew it was wrong but it had been so draining for so many years. When my husband suggested a family trip at the beginning of December I thought I was going to have to check into a mental institution.
It was the best thing that could have happened to Christmas.
We had to miss several parties which meant I didn't have to get presents or wrap them for great-nieces/nephews I didn't know. Instead our family had an awesome time in sunny California. It felt good. By the time we got home there was a big gap before family parties, which I did enjoy, and the one concert we now got to attend. The preparations for the holiday were much simpler. On Christmas Eve instead of a big dinner, we ordered pizza. And everyone was happy. Especially me. Christmas morning I felt the magic.
All because one family kept their lights up until February.
From that Christmas I learned I didn't have to do 'everything'. We opted out of gift giving at two family parties and eventually both of these parties were cancelled because I wasn't the only one feeling like the holidays were too busy. I bought neighbor treats instead of making them - and it was okay. We cut out some of the other activities I had assumed were so necessary to 'make the season bright'. I was better prepared for the parties and concerts that mattered because they were the ones I got to focus on. Christmas became fun. Now I love the season and the lights and the music. I'm still not punctual with the Christmas letter but that's one thing that doesn't have to be done by 12/25 - and I'm okay with that.
I still think about the February house. It not only helped me find a way to really have the Christmas Spirit, it got me pondering about light. Since then I've taken more notice of how lights penetrates darkness, of how we are drawn to light, and how it extends warmth and helps things grow.
It seems very fitting that the Light of the World is celebrated with colorful lights on the holiday commemorating His birth. His light penetrates even the darkest of times. We are drawn to Him because He gives us direction and hope. His light warms our souls and helps us grow. His light en'lightens' us. It reduces our burdens and lifts us up. His light lasts longer than a 'season'. It is never ending.
I love Christmas Lights!