Kage Baker, as I have mentioned before, loved Christmas lights. I think it had a little to do with her manic adoration of fireworks – coloured sprays of light in the dark super-charged part of her brain. And Christmas lights are a lot like frozen fireworks.
Some of it, too, was her deep spiritual conviction that Winter was the Dark Time, and so it needed lights. Kage felt it was the duty of those of us with thumbs and imaginations to illuminate the darkness, especially for those who could not do it themselves. That would be little kids being borne hither and yon in parents’ cars, lonely travellers, lost souls, small animals looking for someplace with a little warmth, and so on.
There were years when all of Christmas we had was lights. And that was just fine. The lights were the point and heart of the Winter celebration. No matter what culture you take your traditions from, they all include an emphasis on LIGHT. This is the dark heart of the year, when light matters most of all. As the sainted Sir Terry Pratchett* commented, with any luck the sun will come back and the oxygen will thaw out. But it doesn’t hurt to remind the Sun when and where to return.
I remember one Christmas when we were living in a trailer, in an oak grove on the site of the Northern Renaissance Faire: our tiny lawn was easily illuminated by our strings of Christmas lights, and on the coldest nights (and days) it was also silver white with frost. Kage used to sit by the darkened window and watch the hares and deer who came out to nibble the frozen grass, and the cotton items on our clothes line. And we could look up the hill to other tiny households (also in tin cans) and see their strings of lights, as well – and it was one of the best times ever.
My family loves Christmas lights. In fact, we love lights of all sorts, so much so that we have a monthly rotation on the front porch. Thanks to my love affair with Amazon Prime, we have intense LED lights in every colour of the rainbow – including flamingo pink, sunflower yellow, and a kind of warm lavender … I think it’s meant to be a blue white, but instead has failed to this interesting I-need-oxygen mauve shade. Christmas, is of course, the linchpin and crown of the seasonal cavalcade – not only in variety, but where we put them.
Recently, we changed out the red-orange-yellow chord for Harvest and Thanksgiving, and set out the multi-coloured, blue and white lights for Midwinter. Right now, the windows are framed in rubies and diamonds; the tree is in plain white, for frost; the porch rail and the iron fence around the front garden are blue-white icicles under a line of coloured LEDs. There are frost trees – beautiful naked branches decked in ice-coloured lights – and soon there will be the annual appearance of Lars, the Solstice Moose.
Lars is one of the especial Winter totems of our house. The Solstice Moose is a very important part of the Midwinter celebrations, as initially explained to my nephew Mike when he was very small. His mother invented Lars; I came up with his duties. Like all such Solstice judges, he brings sweets and presents to good kids. If you are bad, though – he’ll fill your stocking with moose turds. Not just the stocking you hang up, either – Lars is very thorough, and will go remorselessly into your sock drawer and fill ALL your stockings … all I can say in defense of this story is that it utterly cracked up my 3-year old nephew, and continues to make him snicker to this very day. Come up with your own moose legends if you don’t like it.
I have nothing at all exculpatory to say about Cthulu Klaus, who sits on the living room bookcase, leering benignly.
It’s the lights, you see, that set this all going. I’ve got a string of them on my desk; there are lights in the garland that frames the arch between the living and dining rooms. There is a tiny tree dressed in blue lights sitting beside my desk-top plasma generator, producing an effect like a deep-space snow globe. And it’s the twinkling that most of all works the seasonal magic.
The human brain likes a certain amount of flicker. Candle flames, firelight, strobes, the lines of cars on distant roads – they all evoke a sense of warmth and content in most people. It’s some hard-wiring unique to us, I suspect; though dogs and cats,long accustomed to living in our homes, seem to have up picked up on it as well. Whenever we put the Christmas lights up, they absolutely must have some twinkling lights.
I don’t care for those strings that all blink on an off and their own; nor the ones that display waves of strobing. A lot of our Filipino neighbors put up huge coloured stars that blink so brightly and so fast that they can bring on epileptic seizures: amazing, but too much. No, what I like is a just a few lights twinkling randomly, softly, in the general glow. It provokes endorphins, converts that background hydrogen hum to a steady-state OM. And it’s probably why I am happier tonight.
Kage used to watch very carefully for that precise moment when, she said, she could suddenly feel the Christmas season strike her. She’d smile and relax then, as if some cosmic ray of beneficence had just illuminated her soul. And I guess it had.
Last night, I’d have sworn I would not feel it this year. Tonight … well, Merry Christmas to you, Dear Readers. A Warm Midwinter, a Blessed Solstice, an Eventual Return of the Light to you all!
Lars will find the bad guys on his own, never fear.
- What, has Terry Pratchett not been sainted yet? Well, then, I must begin the paperwork. I am ordained – like so many of us in my generation! – in the Church of Universal Light, or some such thing. I can get a certificate and canonize the dear old man …