For that time when the family has trickled off to their bedrooms, the Christmas tree is still lit, the open space on the carpet where presents rested only this morning feels like nudity:
Though it’s two in the morning, it seems wrong to call this Christmas Day yet. It’s still Christmas Eve, and the night is at its darkest time. In four hours, the sun will light the horizon, turn the mountains a rosy pink and send the foot of snow around the house into glitter. Though I prefer it in the moonlight, sparkling snow is a sight as close to magic as I expect I’ll ever see.
Yesterday, I briefly entered into a discussion with my filmmaker buddy AJ about whether or not Christmas and Halloween are at all similar, as they are in my opinion, the two most magical days of the year.
“Christmas and Halloween are the exact opposite, I’d say,” he said.
I’ve always held to a fascination about the darker side of Christmas — a necessary darkness in my no doubt skewed and quite biased, romantically twisted vision of the holiday. Halloween, I feel it’s agreed, carries a sexy thrill in the warmth of the candlelight, the streetlamps, and the two-sided grin of the Jack O’lantern. Imagine the Jack O’lantern on the darkened porch. Blackness has wrapped the pumpkin so that even the outer orange of the pumpkin is shrouded, leaving the glow alone as the night falls, a bright grin against the dark that breathes defiance. It’s in this defiance of the dark, the work of the lantern to ward off evil spirits, that even the most jagged grin, the most snaggle-toothed grotesque acts on behalf of the good, warning away the mischievous, the invasive. It’s this nature of Halloween, that as the night necessarily falls, the caricatures fall away, the cute smiling pumpkins like the hand-drawn hand-turkeys of November are replaced by the truest, darkest, but most magical work of the holiday.
It’s this magic that’s felt in the solitary defiant glow of the candlelight on the front porch, and the momentary safety children feel as they jump from streetlamp to streetlamp like puddle to puddle on a rainy may. They are disguised as that from the other side of the veil, they run with the darkness, in and out of what they both fear and stand against in the same way as they run in and out of the light. They blend into the darkness in order to avoid it. They hide their faces in order to pass amongst the dead anonymously. The darkness is for once romanticized, a necessary evil, and one that touches another side that we only imagine from the darker shadows the rest of the year.
Except for Christmas.
Perhaps my friend AJ is right in that Christmas is the antithesis of Halloween, but not in its exclusion of the dark.
Christmas doesn’t make the darkness its focus, but it does make it necessary. There’s an inherent darkness of Christmas. In the dreams of white Christmases are dreams of isolation, of snow pack and the warmth of home and family. It’s in the way the panels of light from windows of cabins are cast on the snow outside. It’s in the mystery of Santa Claus, where thoughts of magic reside in the realm of impossibility manifested on one single night, where adults even remember what it was like to be a child and to look to the glow of the tree, and wonder.
Maybe it’s a case for the necessary balance of good and evil, but with the warmth of the lights on the Christmas Tree in the corner is the darkness that wraps about that light. Tell me there’s not more magic in the tree at night, when all the lights have been turned out except for your Christmas tree and perhaps a few flickering candles.
I’ve never known a greater magic than in the glow of a Christmas tree.
Tell me that when you unplug the lights from the tree before going to bed, that you’ve ever seen sadness manifested in such an image as that of the dark Christmas tree. Dark Christmas trees are second only to gas masks on the shit-that-scares-Karl list. (It’s a short list. Cauterizing my tear ducts shut when I was eight ensured that). There’s a reason Christmas in the cheery tropics just isn’t the same; it neglects the darkness of a long winter night, the cold outside the windows, and the fear that the longest night of the year instills.
Where Halloween is about joining in the darkness in an act of defiance as the darkness first falls to start the winter season, Christmas is a cold realization of the omnipresence and necessity of that darkness. In both we take solace in the light, but it’s with Christmas that we so actively seek and revel in such joy to balance this solstice.
And the result is magic; bliss; the way a child’s eyes light up when he peeks about the banister, the laugh between family members, the way cheeks turn red when you come in from the cold.
So eat up. Drink fully. Love deeply. Dance. Indulge in wonders. Merry Christmas my friends.