This time of year the sun dawdles just below the horizon, drowsily rising at 8 AM. It hangs in the sky, yawning and stretching and covering itself with a blanket of clouds, its rays dim and hidden, only to slump below the horizon again at 5 PM.
An hour before the winter sunrise, I pad into the living room, the floor cool beneath my feet, fumbling for my slippers in the dark. There’s a baby on my hip and a portable space heater on the other. For the past week my daughter has consistently woken up past 7 AM (I’m totally jinxing this just by writing it out, I know), sleeping in for me but too early for the sun. Anxious for any semblance of a routine with a 6-month-old, I make it a point to plug in the Christmas tree lights first thing every morning. The string of lights illuminates the room, sending a smattering of colored circles across the walls. It’s quiet and dark in the house, and we watch the blinking tree for a while before I set her down on a quilt, plug in the heater, and start the coffee machine. Outside the streets are black and asleep. She coos into the silence.
2020 has stumbled forward at an awkward pace, vacillating between a dash and a drag. The last twelve months have brought up so much darkness bubbling just under the surface. No one has come out on the other side escaping cuts and bruises (some more than others). And in the nights that stretch longer and longer, minute by minute, the shortest day and longest night is fast approaching.
There’s a Persian holiday called Yalda Night (or Shab-e Cheleh), a celebration of the winter solstice on December 21st. Persians gather together, typically at the eldest family member’s home, once the sun sets, eating pomegranates, watermelon, and nuts, drinking tea, reading poems, and dancing into the early hours of the morning. It’s a way to pay tribute to the longest night of the year, knowing the next day will begin the slow walk to longer daylight—light’s victory over darkness.
In the Christian church, the liturgical season of Advent begins at the beginning of the month of December and ends on Christmas Eve. This time feels sacred because so much of it is steeped in waiting—something that has become so familiar to my family over the last few years. Advent is that messy and holy in-between where the night feels long and yet we know morning is coming.
In our little corner, grief and longing thread themselves among the holiday season. They do this time every year. My husband and I grieve over another year spent an ocean away from our families, raising a child in a place we did not choose. We long for my husband’s immigration process to move forward, the travel ban to be lifted. We find ourselves in the middle of the second wave of COVID restrictions in Turkey, with full weekend lockdowns, limited home gatherings, and daily curfews. We grieve over the sick and long for the health and safety of our friends and family. Layer upon layer of uncertainty cloaks our lives.
During the Christmas season, we wait for God made flesh, God who is already here. I also find myself waiting and hoping for peace and healing. I’d like to hope that as we enter a new year, we would begin again to welcome refugees and those fleeing their homes; we would extinguish the flames of racism and do the hard work of recognizing how white supremacy manifests in our own lives, acknowledging the ugly under belly of our nation; and we would listen and learn from marginalized communities and those who have felt unseen, unsafe, and unheard. I carry these prayers with me, for my own heart, into the coming new year—a clean slate, new mercies, a time to begin again.
So tomorrow, fresh after two days of complete lockdown, we will walk to my mother-in-law’s home down the road, carrying pomegranates and gifts. While COVID means our Christmas season will feel different, we look forward to introducing our daughter to Yalda Night, a pre-Christmas celebration, and hope for the day when all our family members can be together. We will celebrate the end of the lingering nights and welcome the start of longer, brighter days.
So, weary world, may we rejoice in a God who is familiar with the darkness and yet invites us and fills us with divine hope. Victory of light over darkness is coming. We know this because we know the end of the story. Let us come together this Christmas season, breathe a sigh of relief, and wait for the coming Light (and perhaps enjoy a pomegranate or two).