It was Christmas Eve. We listened from our row, looking down at my 9-year-old son, who was seated at the end on the aisle. Rather than the traditional candle that we usually lit for the singing of Silent Night, we’d been handed glow sticks as we entered church. Our Pastor shared their symbolism: instead of blowing them out at the end of the service, as in years past, we would take the glow sticks with us. They were a way for us to carry the Light of Jesus’ birth into the night, into our homes, into our world. They could not be extinguished. We would break our glow sticks and stand, row by row, light by light, so that the room would grow brighter and brighter. He also gave us a heads up: they were not easy to break.
So there sat my son. When the time came for us to break our sticks and stand, he remained in his seat, grabbed his glow stick with two hands and twisted. He gripped. He pulled. He turned. He stepped on. Try as he might, he could not break that stick. I bent down next to him and showed him how to position his hands in a way that might be helpful. No luck. Two ushers—one who is a dear friend—stopped to assist. He declined the help. He sat there, determined to do it alone. No matter what, he was going to break that stick on his own. And so my mom, husband, 4-year-old and I stood and sang a beautiful rendition of Silent Night as my 9-year-old sat, hunched and focused, over the glow stick.
The song was over. A couple of upbeat, festive carols followed. We made our way out to visit with friends. He stood there with his unbroken glow sticks —he’d been given two—as we joked with his Pastor about the difficulty of the task and the strength needed to break them.
We walked outside, ready to go home. My 9-year-old and I went to the curb. I put one of my feet on the end of the glow stick, while he stepped on the other end. Crack. It finally worked. Illumination. We repeated for the other one. Both sticks glowed in the late-afternoon sky.
And that’s when the tears started.
“But I missed it,” he cried. “It’s not fair. I missed it all.”
I thought for a moment about myself, about the feelings I wake up with on December 26th. When the Christmas carols suddenly stop playing on the radio. When the wrapping paper is 75% off.
About the feelings that come when it’s over.
“But you didn’t miss any of it, really,” I told him. “Remember what our Pastor said? That’s why we got glow sticks. They’re to take with us. To help celebrate Jesus’ birthday. To light up our homes. To light up the world.”
So we went home for a night of very little sleep, but an abundance of wonder.
Now some of that 75%-off wrapping paper is sold out.
My mom has returned to California.
The glow sticks have faded.
But as we turn the page on a new calendar, to a new year, we still carry that Light with us.
The Light of Jesus’ birth.
The one that continues to fill the night, fill our homes, fill our world.
The one that —despite a New Year and some things, indeed, being over—can’t be extinguished.