Light, warmth and hope

The holidays. We are a few days past the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year here in the north and into a period marked by numerous events and celebrations, all designed to bring more light to the world, to provide us warmth and hope.

This holiday season is looming more difficult than most of late; many are feeling the effects of an economic downturn, many reeling from the news that times are tough and could get tougher. We are making our ways with a collective uncertainty, some of us through a period marked by personal peril and want.

The holiday brings us a chance, regardless of our particular beliefs, to take heart and focus on things that provide promise — to self, family, community.

The holidays offer spiritual solace. For the Jews among us, the festival of Hanukkah began at sundown Dec. 21. The festival was established to commemorate the Maccabees’ military victory over the Greek-Syrians and the rededication of the desecrated Second Temple to the worship of God. Hanukkah is a celebration of resistance, of survival, of religious freedom — of hope and strength.

For the Christians among us, Christmas marks the recognition of the birth of a Messiah, the beacon and vehicle of salvation for those who believe. Christmas is a signal of the possibility of transcendence, the presence of the divine among men, of hope and the virtue of strength of faith.

On a more practical level, this holiday period brings out the best in the residents of Pagosa Country. Consider the programs that provide assistance and solace to those in need — the food bank programs, the aid programs provided by local churches. Think about the annual Operation Helping Hand program, which this year assisted 305 local families and 991 individuals, providing food, clothing and gifts during a stressful time. Think about the ongoing efforts made by the volunteers at Loaves and Fishes, about the variety of entertainment-based programs that promote good spirit and a positive outlook. And the list is much longer than this.

We are blessed to have all these things.

This holiday gives us the opportunity to nurture strengths as nature slumbers, to deepen our concerns for others, empathize with the plight of those in need. It is a season with heart.

Nothing illuminates that heart more clearly than the expressions of children. Recently, youngsters wrote letters to Santa — sending them to the local post office, handing them in during local programs. What some of them wrote speaks volumes about this time of year, this holiday. And about the human spirit, at its most elementary. True, some letters reflected the crass commercialism of the time but others were poignant. Take, for example (accepting the spelling, of course): “Dear, Santa, I relly do not need anything this year.” “Dear Santa, I would like to live at my grandparents house.” “Dear Santa, How are you doing? How is Mrs. Clase and the raindeer? I wish for everyone to be happy on x-mas day. Have a great x-mas! By til next year.” “Dear Santa: Merry Christmas, Thank you for my presents last year. I loved them. This year I would love capes. That’s it.” “Dear Santa. What I want is a great Christmas with my family.”

So many of these letters thanked Santa, so many asked Santa how he was, how Mrs. Claus was. All were endearing.

As is this time of year, when daylight is its most brief, when services, celebrations and other events can turn us to the reality that, soon, the days will lengthen and warm, things will grow and another kind of abundant life will return.

As it always does.

Karl Isberg