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Make the Most of ­December’s Dark Days

Turn on the lights. Bring in the tree. Rejoice in pageantry. 
     “There’s a big beautiful tree all lit up in the Smiths’ window.” That was the news my husband brought in with newspapers and coffee this morning. After seeing the neighbors’ tree in the late predawn, he was about to haul in ours, now soaking up water as the Bay Gardener directs in this week’s column.
      “Don’t you think it’s a little early?” I asked. “It is still November.” 
      November is not too early to cut a tree. It’s a holiday ritual at our house to invite friends for a Thanksgiving Sunday meal, then drive over field, creek and woods to the Bay Gardener’s Upakrik Farm to cut Christmas trees.
      But December — now just hours away — is when a tree moves in.
      When the 12th month of the 2017th year of the Common Era arrives this Friday, daylight will have shrunk to nine hours and 38 minutes. We are moving darkly to the shortest day of the year, December 21, when we have light for only nine hours, 25 minutes and 55 seconds.
      So in the nights since Thanksgiving, I have been glad to see the lights of the early-bird illuminators. Just so, I welcome all the stars showing in the night sky now that trees above us have given up most of their leaves. For it is too dark this time of year, and we are light-starved.
      Yet we live in an era when night light has become a form of pollution. World nights are so bright that the Milky Way is hidden from more than one-third of humanity, including nearly 80 percent of North Americans — especially us Americans east of the Mississippi.
       Think how dark this time of year must have been before we lighted our nights.
      To that ancient vast and cold darkness we owe our winter holidays. Despite the different ways we celebrate them, all are festivals of light. 
      Hanukkah, beginning this year on December 12, marks a miracle of light lasting nine days.
      The Winter Solstice, December 21, captures both the darkest day of the year and the second-by-second return of light. The Solstice is the beginning of Chesapeake spring, according to legendary naturalist and artist John Taylor, who left us on October 28 and who you’ll read about in next week’s pages. 
      Christmas, December 25, brings light to the Christian world with the birth of god as man, announced by a brilliant star.
      Kwanzaa, the pan-African holiday dedicated to repairing, renewing and remaking the world, running December 26 to January 26, lights seven candles to signify its seven principles.
      New Year’s Eve brings in the new year with fireworks.
      Along with light, each of the winter holidays brings us parties to lighten our spirits. 
      In this week’s paper, we bring you some of our favorite Pageants of Christmas, compiled and described by staff writer Kathy Knotts to brighten your winter holidays.
     Add them to your calendar, and party all the way through these dark days.