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"Paradox of the Season and the Meaning of Stars" (Dec. 2011)

The winter holidays arrive again with the ever-present temptations to spend and save, while a music man searches the heavens for meaning.

Another year is winding down in the usual frenzy of big box retail sales and glamorous holiday specials all over the TV. Weren't we just doing this? I mean, I guess there was that long hot wet summer and all, but the flashback effect is pretty vivid.

It's an odd thing to watch us being exhorted to spend, spend, spend in every direction, and yet we constantly hear about the rough economy, the millions without jobs, the many millions more with jobs who've lost ground these last couple years due to rising insurance costs and salary freezes, and of course there's the big bad federal government throwing hundreds of billions of imaginary dollars around for every unimaginable thing. We are a paradox it would seem. Basic economic theory about supply and demand, goods and services, saving and investing - it all seems to go by the wayside at this time of year.

So how to put things in perspective seems to be my challenge this year. I've decided to pay less attention to enormous issues and the daily diatribes about them that are a multi-bazillion dollar industry unto themselves. (We would be a rich nation if we could sell hot air!) What I am going to focus on this holiday season is what is close - giving meaningful gifts, taking in the wonder of the season through little eyes full of wonder, and staying connected with the community of friends and neighbors that sustains us year round.

Our little village gathers for a bonfire and Christmas caroling every year. The first year we lived in Lincoln we'd been here three weeks, and had endured a two foot snowstorm before we even had all our boxes unpacked. And while the caroling had to be postponed for a few days, when the night came the bonfire blazed high and hot, the cider was warm and spicy, and the snowplow piles made ample fun for kids big and little. We sang, we laughed, we picked our kids up giggling out of the snow, and gazed up at the stars crystal clear in the winter sky.

Something about those winter stars always amazes me. The dry cold air is much clearer of course, but the reflection of the faint light on bright white snow is among my most vivid memories of winter. As the solstice approaches, followed soon after by magic of Christmas, I look forward to the long nights because they are filled with stars.

Beneath the sodium lamps of the shopping mall parking lots, one can find sales galore to be sure, but I wonder if the wonder of the season is diminished by the bright glow of money burning? Somehow I'm not sure that I will find the meaningful gifts I hope to give this year there. I think I'll sit with a mug of warm cider and mull it over for a little while.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukkah, a Blessed Solstice, and may the joy and light of the season warm the long nights in your house too.


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