The winter holidays give us such a good excuse to do what we like best: Tell stories.
Who has time (or patience) to read news as the year rushes in multiple celebratory climaxes toward its end (and more parties)?
Winter solstice, Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanza all come to us over the course of this week’s issue, and many of us have to try to stop to pay them some attention.
We need to pay them attention.
The cycle of the year is bred into our blood and bones. The late months of the year, when light and life have gone into hiding, tend toward hibernation. That’s where the well-fattened groundhog that had been feasting off our garden and leavings has gone. We, too, want to sleep more and eat more and keep warm.
(Pity the poor birds who have to work so hard — even if you planted berry bushes and set out seed and meal worms and warm water — to gather the calories to survive the cold.)
All those holidays mark the end of one cycle of life and the beginning of another. They make that mark in history — and in our psyches. More or less, they all have to do with letting go, on the one hand, and on the other, beginning anew.
At winter solstice, we step out of the darkness, which our senses tell us is all around us — into the light, which is a step of faith, whether in belief or science. Solstice celebration is in our nature.
The other celebrations — Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanza — reinforce the solstice significance with faith and determination.
At Christmas, Christians are reborn with the baby Jesus out of the old era and into the redemption of the new.
At Chanukah, Jews rekindle their determination in faith over the oil lamps that burned way beyond their time.
At Kwanza, African Americans determine to reclaim a lost heritage to guide their futures.
And because we’re celebrating, we have parties to go and to throw, shopping and wrapping and mailing to manage, visits to plan and pageants to inspire renewal.
With all this on our minds and in our hearts, we want to think less — and ruminate more.
So instead of news, we give you stories.
Stories are in our nature, too. We want to hear them from our parents and grandparents and rewrite them with our brothers and sisters and take them with us into the new families we create on our own. We share them to build bonds of intimacy, and we tell them to ourselves again and again, to remind us who we are along our way.
I imagine that way back in our pasts, when we huddled in caves … surrounded by absolute darkness except for the red-hot distant eyes of predators … the elders around us told tales of how they’d beaten back one awful beast or other — and lived to tell the story. And that’s how we found out who we were and what we could do.
Christmas stories — which you’ll find in these pages once more this year — have a special power. After all, the primal Christmas story ranks with the greatest stories ever told.
A working family, she close to giving birth, is forced into migration by a government indifferent to the fate of its people. Their transportation — a donkey — is hardly up to the job. As night falls, they find no welcome, so they take shelter in a stable amid the animals.
Then miracles happen.
A baby is born. A star marks the spot. Angels come to earth. Animals take note. People, starting with shepherds, catch on.
Yet more miracles happen. And history rises from a cycle of repetition on a spiral of hope.
If you believe in stories, as I do, miracles continue to happen. Over the ages, people retell that story in their own versions illuminated by their own gifts. Some tell it in paint, others in music, others in words.
Under the inspiration of that great story, we feel empowered to tell our own stories.
Year by year, I have asked the writers whose comings and goings have sustained the identity of Bay Weekly (and sometimes readers) to tell their Christmas stories in our pages. Again and again, I’ve been rewarded in my story faith with such good stories! Each one could only have been told by one person in the world, its own writer, because it never existed until it found that person’s words. Before that, it had only been experience, pressed ever further to the back of the line by the crowd of succeeding experiences.
Once again this year, you have got some good stories to read in these pages.
Like the stories told in ancient caves, like the original Christmas story, we tell our stories to throw light onto life.
My wish for you is that you find renewal in this season — and words to tell your own stories. It’s fine to tell them only to yourself, for each of us needs a story to live by. But as long as I’m wishing, I wish you the great gift of listeners to harken to your stories.
For 27 years you have given me that gift. So I wish it for you, too.