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In tree lights, there is only Christmas

Yes, yes, I know … it’s January.

But, the thing is, I’m not quite done with Christmas.

At our house, holidays are haphazard. Following the flow of a busy month, the Christmas birthday celebration is a little different each year, without much room for tradition.

The one piece of the day to which we cling, though, is our gift opening.

No mad scramble in our home, shredded wrapping paper flying every which-of-a-way as young and old descend on their presents at once in a feeding frenzy.

No, sir. Not for us.

In our house, the opening of gifts takes hours.

Extended family is far away, so it’s just the five of us. Fortified with snacks and swaddled in comfy blankets and warm socks, we open one gift at a time, chatting and telling stories and ribbing each other and getting up for cheese and crackers before moving on to the next gift, in no hurry and enjoying every minute of the so-rare, slow-moving family time.

Somewhere in the middle — and I won’t say we take bets on when it will happen, but I won’t say we don’t — there’s a laid-back pause while my husband takes his annual gift-opening nap.

No worries, we’re in no hurry.

This year, as we were wrapping up the unwrapping session, I heaved a contented sigh, shook my legs out, and got up to bag up the wads of red and white paper that had been chucked across the room into a pile near my chair.

Figuring my people would be getting restless and ready to roam, I asked when they wanted to regather for supper.

They didn’t stir. The three offspring — two teens and a barely-20-something — gazed at me, at each other, and shrugged.

They didn’t want to leave.

They’d do a puzzle, they decided. In short order, the coffee table was cleared and puzzle pieces were being sorted, gentle conversation centering around where to pile the edge pieces and if anyone had found a corner, yet.

My husband, feet propped on a footstool, examined a freshly-opened gift, in no hurry to be up and doing.

Supper could wait. The rest of the day could wait. I sunk back into a chair, grabbed a blanket, and soaked in the peace of the moment.

I didn’t want to leave, either.

In the bustle of a busy season, we hadn’t gotten around to bringing home a tree until only a few days before Christmas. The poor thing never got much in the way of decoration. Three strands of lights and one ornament was as far as we got, a lone purple dinosaur the only trinket to swing from its boughs.

All through the busy, treeless days of November and December, I yearned for that first, delicious moment of quiet, all the house dark, curled on the couch in a room lit only by the lights of the tree.

When the tree lights are on and the sun is turned off, there is only warm glow. Only peace, gentleness. The rest of the room, the house, the world, fades into sepia-tone, and you’re in a place that’s safe, where all is good, where there is nothing but the quiet, comforting light.

In the glow of tree lights, you can’t see the messes you know you should clean up. You can’t see the postal carrier’s newest shipment of bills on the table, or the dishes in the sink.

You can’t see — when your eyes are dazzled by those little lights amid the beguiling green spaces — the worry, the angst, the hovering cloud of failure and bog of disappointment that are out there, just outside the windowpane.

In the lights of the Christmas tree, there is only Christmas. Only peace on earth and a baby’s cry and people being nice to each other. Only the click of puzzle pieces and a warm blanket and contentedness.

I don’t want to leave.

Dearest Jesus, meek and mild, I don’t want to step away from Your manger. Out there, it’s wild, and there are wolves. I want to cling to the season of giving, where people are kind and not cruel, where lights are dim and I can’t see all that needs fixing, all the hurts I ought to help heal.

Ah, but that baby grew.

He stepped into the darkness and brought it light, threw the aching hearts of the world onto His back and hung from a tree so even the most wretched, writhing under the weight of failure and sorrow, can close their eyes and lay their head on His shoulder and breathe quiet breaths, forgiven and loved, despite the darkness.

Christmas has to stay in December, and I must move on, lights on, eyes open, off the couch and back into the world. There are battles to be fought, wrongs to be righted, messes to clean. Joy to give to a world that needs it — desperately.

Next December, though, I’ll be back, curled in the light of a tree, letting the rest of the world fade away, the only sound the peaceful, I’ll-never-leave-you breathing of a baby in a manger.

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, jriddle@thealpenanews.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.