Today is December 21st, the solstice, the shortest day of the year. Snow falls gently, sporadically, in large puffy flakes like milkweed down. My husband indulges in his new hobby, baking breads and nut rolls. The house smells like temptation. Tonight I will leave a candle burning to welcome the return of the light.
We've been wrapping presents, and as always we play our favorite music. A couple contemplative Winterludes; John Denver and the Muppets; The Nutcracker; the now hard-to-find Three Ships. On Christmas Eve we'll dig out the two-decades-old tapes of our kids singing in their high school concert choir.
As I grow older, I find the bustle of the holidays less endearing. My children are grown, and I won't see my grandchildren until New Year's Eve. The early darkness and long nights weigh on my spirit. Many years have passed since I last accepted the beliefs I learned as a child. Perhaps I simply no longer have the energy to celebrate the way I once did.
Even with all that, I would not give up Christmas. Even though the solstice has come to have more meaning for me than the Nativity story, I still enjoy the traditions. The foods, the gift-giving, the sappy TV shows. I even enjoy the perennial debate over seasonal greetings--I'll gladly accept any good wishes anyone wishes to bestow upon me.
These days, it's the music that gets to me. I still laugh when Beaker sings his lines in "The Twelve Days of Christmas," and I'm touched by the simple sincerity of the songs. I get nostalgic listening to fifty teenagers sing "Adeste Fideles" in perfect a capella harmony. Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, whose ballet so perfectly captures the longing to hold onto ephemeral beauty, makes me weep. And when Jon Anderson blends his glorious soprano voice with a gospel choir in "O Holy Night"...
Well, with music like that, sometimes I wish I still believed.