Season of Darkness

There is a reason the old stories of winter holidays are filled with darkness, monsters, and ghosts.

Winter is the season of death.

People gathered to celebrate near the beginning of the season because they knew not everyone would make it to see the light and warmth of spring. Ghosts of the past would be remembered and the ghosts of the future fretted about as everyone knew the very young, the very old, the weak, the sick…were likely to die.

The animals on the farms would either be killed for food or die from cold or starvation. The herds would be culled. The populations would dwindle.

Modern people have no idea how devastating winter was. Entering winter people knew they were likely to starve or freeze to death before spring came.

Winter was cold, dark, and harsh, its cruel fingers not likely to leave anyone unscathed.

The solstice marked the longest night of the year when the demons of darkness came out of hiding and took what they wanted from the living.

The industrial revolution of the nineteenth century and technological advances of the twentieth and twenty-first brought about major shifts- most of all they brought light and warmth to long winter nights. First with gas that brought light and heat, then with electricity that created the modern world as we know it. Lighting the nights with bright and flashing lights and screens that shine brightest during the winter holidays.

People created beauty to drown the darkness. Christmas became a light show. A season of cheer, a time to be thankful, a time to share, a time to give, a time to gather and show loved ones how much you care.

Then came rampant consumerism- buy, buy, buy. Give, give, give. It was all about money and gifts.

And the darkness crept back in.

Stress to make your family happy with flashy gifts instead of heartfelt presents became the norm.

Little by little more and more people started feeling the darkness. Suicides, seasonal depression, loneliness, deaths around Christmas…the rates skyrocket each year.

Lately the old stories have made their way into to pop culture- Krampus and his French Counterpart Père Fouettard ; Gryla, The Yule Lads, and their giant cat, Jólakötturinn;  Frau Perchta; Mari Lwyd; and La Befana just to name a few.

The old Victorian tradition of telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve is being resurrected by many.

The twenty-first century is a whirlwind of change. While some try to fight to hold onto their outdated points of view so hard they scratch and claw each other to death. The whole world is a mess. People are as cold and cruel as the old winters. Perhaps the old ways are being honored again because so many feel the pull of darkness and wish to honor it in hopes of keeping it at bay.

The holiday darkness touched me early in life taking my father a week before Christmas when I was four years old. This devastating event altered the path my life could have taken. It changed everything inside me right down to my core. My entire being was twisted, a giant hole created inside me, an emptiness nothing can fill. Not family, not friends, not success. An eternal sadness no light can brighten. Not even the twinkling of holiday lights or the flicker of candles during a bright and merry holiday season.

I have always tried so hard to have holiday joy, to give my children a proper Christmas full of traditions, beautiful gifts, memorable moments, and family time they will remember always and hopefully share with their own children one day.

Throughout December carols play on the radio and Hallmark movies are on the television. Hot cocoa fills our mugs as we nibble on candy canes and bake Christmas cookies.

Yet the darkness always lingers, just around the edges, threatening to destroy our happy little holiday. Like a specter peeking in the window, watching, waiting for the right moment to join us. Holiday spirit keeps the specter out, and keeps our home and family safe while others in the community or my circle of friends and family are touched by the cold hands of tragedy and death. Year after year someone is touched- losing a father, a mother, a sister, a spouse, a child, a beloved pet…I feel their pain, shudder at their loss, and thank the gods the loss was not mine, not this year... but always knowing eventually it will be.

This year the darkness has been ever-present. I can’t shake it. Perhaps it is the state of the world. Perhaps it is because I’m broke and can’t purchase the gifts I want to. Maybe it is the crippling pain my body is usually wracked with.

Or the hole inside me has grown.

I know that time ticks by faster every day, and too soon those I love will be gone.

I’ll be gone.

The ghosts of Christmas past beckon to me and tease me with the ghosts of Christmas future.

I look into the darkness and feel it. It is a sentient being and we are intimately acquainted.

He whispers to me like a lover. “Come with me, I will keep you warm. You will never want, you will never hunger, the pain will be a distant memory.”

I turn on more twinkling lights, light more candles and tell the holiday darkness to go away. 

I wrap presents and plan the family feast. I know the darkness is still there, just over my shoulder out of sight but he’s no longer whispering to me. He has given up on me this year.

But I know he’ll come courting again. One day I might not be strong enough to resist his seduction.

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