I used to have a Christmas tree ornament that I would hold and ponder at this time of the year. I no longer have it, and I’m not sure if I threw it away, or just left it in some dusty corner of my childhood home. It looked very much like this.

(Image from http://www.booksofthebible.com/p3140.html)

That’s right. A thick, long iron nail (maybe pewter, in this case). The whole point is that back when I was a Christian I saw Christmas mainly as a foreshadowing of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The nail was to remind me of death and sin and blood in the midst of all the cheer and warmth and celebration of Christmas. I would hold it and ponder my sinfulness and complicity in the killing of Jesus (nevermind that the event, if it is not only mythology, happened thousands of years before I was born.) What sweet thoughts.

I used to think that these dreary thoughts were profound and edifying. Now I’m just horrified by the very idea that I ever thought that way. Christmas is a season of hope, though now for me it is about the hope that light and warmth will come again even though it is now so cold and dark. The lights on the houses remind that light is not gone from the world, even if our hemisphere tilted away from the sun’s rays for the time being. This need for hope in dark times is, I think, the root of all the winter holidays. The sun, and our longing for it, is the reason for the season.