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Barbara's Column
December  2003 #3

Holiday had its origins in man's craving for light
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Wednesday, December 24, 2003

In this holiday week, I bring you glad tidings of various levels of joy.

The "great joy" should be saved for momentous events, like the birth of the baby Jesus; or, for that matter, the birth of much-wanted children and grandchildren of any name.

I talk with my 2-year-old twin grandkids, long distance. Maya tells me about stringing cranberries for their natural tree, and Aidan blows a kiss into the phone. They are going visiting for the weekend and will take the multicolored quilts that I gave them for Christmas.

Ah, you envision me sitting in my rocking chair, my reading glasses on my nose, surrounded by chunks of cloth that I'm hand-stitching into cheerful patterns. Readers, last month I put a button on my flannel pajamas and that was my sewing for the year 2003; maybe in 2004, the return of a button to the waistband of my favorite slacks.

The quilts were commissioned from Rebeca Clark of Beverly, who sells them at a booth at the farmer's market near my house. I donated some pieces of material from my favorite T-shirts: Aidan's quilt carries the phrase, "Beam me up Scotty;" and Maya's has the original Citizens for Limited Taxation logo - a cartoon taxpayer dressed in a barrel.

More joy: My card sleigh filled up again this year. My friends are still alive! We have, however, reached an age where the newsletters report chronic illness and knee surgery as much as vacation trips and self-improvement courses. Ah well, "Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be..." Someone should put that on a quilt.

Sometimes joy is an absence of horror. How wonderful to celebrate the capture of one of history's most evil dictators! Flying from Nevada I sat next to the wife of a soldier whose unit had liberated the Baghdad airport; I told her to thank him for me.

Here in Massachusetts, we'll have to forgo the joy of hearing the Hallelujah chorus being sung underground during another Big Dig celebration; an ode to those who pulled the plug on that travesty. I would love to celebrate this extraordinary engineering feat, if said feat hadn't cost $12 billion more than we'd been told when it began.

In general, I prefer to be above ground. One of this year's joys was experiencing the red aurora borealis in October. I checked the nighttime sky every few hours for almost a week before I finally saw it. For Christmas, my partner, Chip, gave me a photo he took, enlarged and framed, for my celestial phenomena wall.

The wall began years ago with a photo given to me by Dr. Sallie Baliunas, one of the nation's outstanding astrophysicists, who lives in Topsfield. It shows a star shining through the rings of Saturn.

Years later, in Hawaii, I bought a professional photo of a comet flashing over the Kilauea lava flow, titled "fire and ice."

Next, Chip photographed the sun rising in eclipse in Grand Manan Island, where we were visiting friends at just the right time. There's also a sunset off Baja California from my son's little vacation home; from our yard, a Christmas eclipse of the moon; and this year's Mars passing closer to earth than it has in 60,000 years. If only he had been around to photograph the star of Bethlehem!

For awhile I wished everyone "Happy Holidays," but now that this is so-o-o-o politically correct, I've been greeting people with "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Hanukkah."

"Joyous winter solstice," works for me too.

Remember that it all began with ancient humans in the northern hemisphere noting that at the end of December, the sun finally turned around and began the long trek back to summer. A pagan holiday celebrated that scientific fact, and our ancestors lit fires to welcome the great ball of fire in the sky; also, of course, to keep warm, since winter was just beginning and survival was going to be a challenge.

Christians, trying not to stand out in a hostile Roman world, set their own celebration at roughly the same time, thereby ensuring they could survive their own holiday. Hanukkah, of course, is the even older Jewish Festival of Lights. At this time of year, all northern people want to fill the long nights with warmth and color.

I fell in love with the art of Thomas Kinkade years ago when I stumbled upon one of his early galleries in Genoa, Nevada. Back then they were just paintings of charming cabins with all the lights on; now, of course, crass commercialism has expanded his work into ceramic lighthouses and even a line of furniture! I still like the paintings, but remind myself about my electric bill whenever I am tempted to make my house look like one - except during this holiday week. Let it shine, let it glow: The sun is returning!

Despite the season's joyous stretch toward brotherhood, I'm not asking for "peace on earth, good will toward men." Rather, may there be peace on earth to all men and women of good will; and justice to more of the bad guys in 2004.

Aurora Borealis over Marblehead
October 30, 2003

Back up to text

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence Journal and other newspapers.

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