I grew up in Missouri and lived in the same modest, brick ranch house for my first fifteen years of life. We were a big family in a small house, and I was the youngest. Christmas celebration involved a whole gang of brothers, sister, cousins, aunts, uncles, nephews and nieces. On Christmas Eve, we had a family gathering at my cousins’ house with dill dip and rye bread, tiny sweet pickles, Mom’s chocolate chip cookies, and something simple and savory in my Grandma’s cast iron pot.

As December’s short days bring us less light from the sun, the pictures in my mind of the holiday season as a child are moody and dim as though through a camera filter. The poetry of Psalm 104 tells us that God wraps himself in light as with a garment. In my memories, God is with us then, holding our stories with an ever-present reflection of his own light.

In the comings and goings of Christmas, there were tiny lights strung up on the mantle, the advent candles on the table, candle lit figurines of snowmen and ski people that came out of their boxes once a year—and even the hushed sounds of our voices gave a sort of glow of excitement. There was light dancing and wood snapping from the fireplace in the family room. My next-oldest brother and I used to scoot the brown, corduroy armchairs up as close as we could to the fire’s warmth. We used to fight a lot, but these nights were peaceful and I remember how we curled our toes up over the edge of the bricks and then pulled them back in close under the blanket as the heat soaked in deep.

Above the fireplace there was a display of tiny painted, plastic wintry houses and artificial pine garland. Each house was lit with the light of a Christmas light bulb. They set off prism-like shadows on the brick above and made our eyes sparkle. I remember my nephew as a toddler reaching his arms up to my Dad wanting to see them up close, “Houses, Pop? Houses?” I was about twelve then and loved having my sister’s family back in the house with us for the holiday.

Across the house in the living room, the tree gave light, too. The fragrant, balsam fir usually stood near the picture window by the front door, dressed up with bubble lights like tiny lava lamps and big rainbow bulbs. Trimmed with sentimental ornaments, the branches especially clustered close together on the lower branches where we could reach, each one like a vignette of a season of life lived close together. I realize now how these sentimental scenes stay with us as we have each gone on to live a thousand variations of life and relationship.

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