Christmas is an apt holiday for this northern time of year, a solstice pause when the light will begin turning around, slowly, before it returns by my daughter’s early February birthday in racingly long days. More than anything, I think of this time of year as intense juxtaposition – utter dark, crystalline snow – of giving and receiving – of domestic warmth and external cold.
As a young child, maybe six or seven, I remember listening to a Christmas story on the radio. My sister and I were confused about this place called Bethlehem, and why were Mary and Joseph wandering around on a donkey just before she had a child? How did this mysterious star appear? The most mesmerizing part of the story were the angels who appeared to the shepherds, camped out with their woolly flocks in night. The angels linked those two worlds – sandal-wearing staff-bearing shepherds, sitting around their nightly fire – with the profoundly unknown heavens, embodying juxtaposition: enchanting beauty and stark fear.
So it seems to me, this year perhaps in particular, that Christmas is a holiday for the pleasures of childhood – of play and eating and a ferocious appetite for life. The immense star that joined a newborn and his wandering parents to anonymous shepherds and wealthy kings alike shines yet over our polluted and ailing, and infinitely precious and beautiful planet; the story is yet alive.
And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
Luke 2, King James Version