It is a scene repeated annually since Charli was 5 years old. Daddy, after spending the afternoon perusing an orchard of cut Christmas trees, drives up in front of our house. I look to Charli's bedroom window where I know mother and daughter will be waiting for the unveiling of the picture-perfect choice.
Even from this distance, I can see Charli's eyes flashing and her hands clapping while her long brown hair sways back and forth. Without hearing her voice, my mind recalls my daughter's annual message of the season: "Charli's Tree!"
Those two shouted words signal that the afternoon will be spent with Daddy struggling to place this green icon in its place of honor, while mommy badgers him to get the perfect side of the tree pointed toward an imaginary audience. Following this grudging task, Daddy will unpack and sift through all of the ornaments and strands of lights, accompanied by an uproar of identifying phrases shouted by Charli: "Santa Claus!" "Snowman!" Despite all of this exhilaration, Charli and Lisa are really awaiting one event: turning on the Christmas tree lights.
It has become a tradition in our family for mother and daughter to sit on the couch and watch the lights, enthralled, while I make final adjustments to the ornaments. Of course, this always results in Charli's slipping into dreams of sugarplums before the task is finished. This year has been no different, and I enjoy the unbridled expressions of love between them. As I watch Lisa serenely stroking the hair of her sleeping child, I wonder: Did Mary know what her baby would endure before becoming "the light of the world"?
Perhaps my question is actually the answer to another seasonal query. Why are we so fascinated with Christmas decorations that even during our current economic crisis Americans spend millions on holiday illumination? Perhaps a subliminal meaning of the lights draws us to their soft glow. Maybe that star shining on top of our evergreens unconsciously reminds us of that first Christmas night and the promise fulfilled by the Christ child.
Speculating on this, I allow those lights shining against the dark background of the tree, in my imagination, to take me back to a night ages ago on a hillside far away. By watching those lights, I can almost see the infinity of the stars shining overhead and hear the sound of sheep in the distance.
Sitting at home with only the soft light of the tree to illuminate the faces of those I love fills my soul with the simple hope of shepherds guided by the light of that unique star to the side of a carpenter's baby who they, amazingly, saw as the hope of humanity.
Those poor shepherds stared into the infinity of space and saw angels who said "fear not...." Likewise, staring at the lights of Christmas lets me forget, temporarily, the fear of a bleak future and reminds me that whatever occurs now, as it was then, God watches over us.
When I watch Charli stare at those lights, I see reflected in her eyes the awe of that child born long ago under a canopy of stars who would become the King of Kings. Now, as then, perhaps we unconsciously grasp in those twinkling lights the hope that our current situation is only a moment in the infinity of history, and that man will pass this way many more times.
We stare at these glowing reminders of that perfect night, and in our hearts realize that we are not alone - that a more powerful force is guiding our triumphs and tribulations until we reach a world that reflects His perfection.
Every year, Americans take pride and joy in decorating our collective yuletide forests with millions of tiny glowing reminders, trying to outshine each other in our decorating. We do this in order to create a thing of beauty that reflects some part of the promise fulfilled on that Holy Night.
Beneath all of our bustling and fervor for perfection, we are attempting to build a bridge between ourselves and that serene vision of a world without strife. The glimmering lights of the season take their admirer away from the humble reality of the present, and place them in the glory of something larger than themselves.
Watching the lights of Christmas takes us away from our troubles, calms our souls, and immerses us temporarily in the promise of the ages: "Peace, and good tidings which shall be for all men."
(Dennis Jones is a Martinez resident.)
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