02 Dec Let There Be Lights
“There are dark shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in the contrast.” – Charles Dickens
Bring on the lights! How else do we combat the shrinking daylight hours and encroaching cold? On any given night, stippling our vast New York City nighttime skyline are millions of lit windows; bright yellow rectangles. This time of year, balcony railings are wrapped and twinkling, storefronts festooned with holiday trappings and soon-to-be-bare tree branches are illuminated with bright, sparkle lights. Each evening, when I return home, I plug in the string of lights that frame my living room window and light candles. If I squint enough, and sip a glass of wine, I can almost imagine I’m gazing into a warm, crackling fireplace (if you live in NYC and have a working fireplace, keep it to yourself!).
I have the good fortune to serve as Communications Director for a vibrant, enriched UWS preschool where we, as a diverse community, celebrate many bright holidays this time of year. After Halloween our children learn about Diwali, Hanukkah, Santa Lucia, Kwanzaa, Christmas and the Chinese New Year. Teachers read books and talk with students about how different cultures celebrate this time of year with colors, sounds and lights. Massive seasonal night-lights to stave off the shadows. Beacons to lift the human spirit and remind us all that, while the world feels a bit darker, light and life endure. Clearly, we need this reminder and crave it, adults and children alike.
Having grown up in New York City with a Jewish mother and a Scottish, Presbyterian father, each year I look forward to lighting a menorah and to decorating a Christmas tree; traditions my children embrace — What’s not to embrace? We all need a little cheering up this time of year. Our need for light and warmth intensifies in direct proportion to the loss of daylight. So the more light the merrier. I’m thinking this year perhaps a Saturnalia Celebration may be in order! Or let’s bring back Yule (hopefully there were no awful sacrifices involved in either!?). If there are lights and festivities, count me in.
As children we are equal parts afraid and fascinated by the dark. Our human cave-brains are wired for vigilance in the night, especially in winter when food sources grew scarce and the cold itself threatened survival. Darkness provides cover to potential predators and the cliff’s edge that would otherwise be gapingly visible during the daylight. Without light we are only able to imagine what the darkness may conceal.
Perhaps for all of these reasons and more, Charles Dickens is inextricably linked to the “Holiday Season” for millions of people around the world. His seminal work, A Christmas Carol, is the ultimate story of finding light in the depths of darkness, both literal and figurative. While some historians credit Dickens with creating Christmas (not the religious holiday) as we know it today, at the very least, he immortalized the Victorian era’s celebration of Christmas as a time of rejoicing, gathering together and light. What makes Dickens ever relevant is his ability to layer his passion for the levity of this holiday with poignant reminders for all of us to think beyond ourselves to those less fortunate. Without proselytizing, he encourages his reader to ponder how we may strive to be better people, kinder bosses, brothers, uncles, friends. Yearly, his work confronts us with our inner-Scrooge.
A Christmas Carol equally appeals to our inner-child’s fear of darkness with the awe-inspiring ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future (apparently there is no relationship between Charles Dickens and the expression, “You scared the Dickens out of me!” Although, it’s easy to under why one might mistakenly think they are associated!). Perhaps one of the greatest ghost stories of all time, A Christmas Carol knows how to use our fear of the unseen to convey important life-lessons including the profoundly haunting words of the ghost of Jacob Marley.
“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.” ― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
All the ghosts offer Scrooge self-awareness, a good shaking-up and, ultimately, a chance for redemption. Through Scrooge, Dickens gives the reader the same opportunity to consider the possibility of transformation, self-acceptance and embracing our inner light.
With 2016 drawing to a close, whatever holiday you choose to celebrate, or not, I wish you love, light and laughter as a reminder that, “It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.” ― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Photo Courtesy: Ravi Kaushik
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