Editor’s note: The following essay originally appeared in the winter 2012 issue of Geez Magazine.
Planning to prepare for and celebrate Christmas brought me to an unexpected halt. Never before had I needed to decide how I would celebrate Christmas for I had always lived with family, or been in college and traveling home, or moving the week after Christmas. The halt commenced as I thought of my family tradition of cutting down a Christmas tree and imagined single-handedly trying to hoist a tree upon my car. I quickly came upon questions far bigger and more complex than a Christmas tree; I questioned the purpose of celebrating Christmas as a single person as my family Christmas traditions were, well, dependent on family.
As I recalled the many traditions, I remembered a home busy with frenetic preparations. However, I longed deeply to prepare my heart for Christ’s coming on Christmas morning, not simply for gifts and traditions. I explored the meaning of Advent, the four-weeks leading up to Christmas, as the season that invites us to remember and long for the coming of Jesus, Light of the World, in midst of the darkness of this world and our very own hearts. I desired to strip away distractions in order to grow in knowing the love of God and to practice living in a way that reminded me that my worth and identity were not tied to efficiency. Friends shared that they had fasted from electricity for a season, and I was struck by the simplicity and simultaneous ability to change everything. And so, I decided that fasting from the lights in my home for Advent would be disrupting enough to catch and maintain my attention over an extended period, a fitting vehicle to invite God to come alongside my hopes for change, and an invitation into a deep longing for the Light of the World to come into darkness. I prepared by buying boxes of candles and unscrewing light bulbs. A trial run left me concerned about what I had committed do and mourning the light that I would soon be losing.
The first days were dark in ways both expected (how do you cook by candlelight?) and unexpected. I found myself cursing the candles that impeded my expected productivity and crying at the darkness and condemnation I saw in my soul. However, as the days passed, the darkness shifted to a rich sweetness as I lay beneath the lights of my Christmas tree painting Christmas cards. (I settled on an artificial Christmas tree borrowed from a friend.) The quality of household tasks shifted as I experienced them as novel sensory experiences. I lingered in prayer, reading, and writing, for I simply did not see the clothes needing to be ironed or floors needing to be swept. My soul and mind quieted, stilled. The darkness, which at first seemed crushing, was now welcomed and comforting. As the days passed and my eyes adjusted to the dimness, I found myself using fewer candles as I sought to maintain the comforting slower pace gained through struggling to see. I did not miss the frenetic preparations of gifts and traditions, for my heart was preparing and I knew that candlelight would become a tradition of my home. I did not lament the lessened productivity, for I learned of a richness of being present in the moment that held value far beyond the unseen stacks of things to do.
Though I may still pause in my decision about a Christmas tree next year, I do not fear a halting crisis. I look forward to fasting from light (and likely new boundaries related to emitted light from my computer) and returning to candlelight for a season that slows my movements and mind and intentionally prepares my soul in ways deeper than ten kinds of Christmas cookies and shopping mall trips for obligatory gifts ever did.