Tag Archives: light

Light on the Shortest Day

Christmas lights, memorial tree

Light on the Shortest Day.

The winter solstice, the day with the least amount of daylight in the Northern Hemisphere, arrives at 11:28 a.m. Eastern Standard Time today. Historians note that ancient peoples celebrated this day with festivals of light in recognition that from this day forward daylight slowly but inevitably increases until we reach the summer solstice in six months. They further portend Christianity affixed Christmas to coincide with these secular celebrations. Regardless, Christmas has been on December 25 for ages, though it’s doubtful that is the actual date of Jesus’ birth.

Nevertheless, the holidays are filled with images of lights. Houses are decorated in honor of the season. Businesses, too, join lighting up the dark December nights. Entire towns and cities hold holiday lighting festivities and light up their downtowns with seasonal decorations and glowing lights.

Our family has joyfully joined in that tradition for 46 years. This year, in our new location in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, we planted a little fir tree in the backyard. We call it our “Jenny tree” in honor of a friend who died much too soon at age 47. Jenny was a light to the world, to everyone she met, her family, the children with whom she shared at the school where she worked, and of course her coworkers.

Accordingly, I decided to fill our little Jenny tree with white lights. They burn night and day throughout the holiday season as a reminder of the light Jenny so lovingly shared in life.

But for me, today is more than the winter solstice. It marks eight years since my father died. He loved Christmas. Furthermore, my wife’s father died 16 years ago on December 22. And Jenny’s brother, Steve, died of cancer 27 years ago also on December 22. Our little Jenny tree shines its radiance for all of these good folks that we loved and miss so much.

“Light on the Shortest Day” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under Christmas, Christmas deocrations, family, friends, holiday decorations, holidays, human interest, Photo of the Week, photography, Shenandoah Valley, writing

In the season’s darkness, let your light shine

early snow

What’s wrong with this picture?

By Bruce Stambaugh

Residents of northeast Ohio have now tasted both the Thanksgiving Day turkey and the season’s first snow. The holidays are indeed upon us.

As we prepare to head into the year’s final month, holiday lights twinkle inside and outside homes and businesses alike. Even without radiating any substantial heat, they warm hearts nevertheless.

Most holidays in December focus their celebration around the theme of light just as the daylight diminishes. The days are in fact the shortest of the year.

Advent candles

Advent candles.

I’ve always found it more than a bit ironic that in the darkest part of the year, our secular and religious holidays glow with light. In fact, these important days gather together as if they were competing for our attention as the calendar year draws to an end.

Given the state of the world today, these celebrations of light are just what the doctor ordered. Earth’s inhabitants need as much light at they can get.

It’s only fitting that the major celebrations of Christmas, Hanukkah, and the winter solstice all squeeze together in late December. It’s like a hidden magnet pulling them into the light itself. I don’t mean to be too jocular about these simultaneous celebrations. Just the opposite is true.

Christians consider Advent, the weeks leading up to and just after Christmas Day, as holy, sacred, magical. My Jewish friends rightly believe the same about Hanukkah.

Those who celebrate the winter solstice as Yule have a practical reason for making merry. From that point forward, daylight increases little by little each day.

It’s all very human of us to acknowledge the importance of light in our lives just when we have the least of it. Doing so gives us hope in the midst of darkness.

Hanukkah is an eight-day Jewish festival also known as the Festival of Lights. One candle is lighted each day on the nine-candle menorah. Hanukkah means rededication and annually commemorates the Jewish struggle for religious freedom.

Chrismtas drama

Star over Bethlehem.

Christmas also is a commemoration. Lights of many kinds fill its traditions. The star in the east that hovered over Bethlehem, birthplace of the Christ child, is reflected on Christmas cards, and in displays, plays, poems, stories, and musicals.

Candle lighting services, often held on Christmas Eve, symbolize the birth of Jesus, the Christians’ declaration of the true light of life. In fact, four churches in Millersburg, Ohio will hold a Candlelight Walk on the evening of December 9 to help usher in the season.

My energetic wife had the electric candles glowing in our windows even before Thanksgiving this year. Illuminating each window with candles is a tradition we’ve had for our 45 years together.

In fact, one Christmas long ago our young daughter wouldn’t let us take down the candle in her bedroom window. When I shared in church about Carrie’s insistence, our late friend and resident poet Lorie Gooding wrote a poem about it. To my knowledge, this is the first publication of that poem.

Carrie’s Candle

I have a candle. It is mine.
I like to watch my candle shine.
It was a light for Christmas cheer.
But I’m going to keep it all the year.
Then when the darkness comes at night,
I’m going to watch my little light.
My good daddy and my pretty mother
Smile at my candle. So does my baby brother.
The light is for everyone to see.
But the little candle belongs to me.

Lorie Gooding

My wish for all of you this holiday season is that the light shines brightly in your lives wherever you may be.

sunrise, Amish farm

Morning light.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Filed under Christmas, Christmas deocrations, family, holiday decorations, holidays, human interest, poem, poetry, writing

The lights of September 11, 2001

By Bruce Stambaugh

My memories from September 11, 2001 are bathed in an emotional kaleidoscope of lights that seemed to guide me through that infamous day.
Sun rays by Bruce Stambaugh
The first light broke with the sunrise as I readied for work. I stood awestruck at the beauty that played out before me. The light from the morning sun glinted in bright shafts of beams through and around the leafy branches of the giant black oak tree directly across from our home. A misty ground fog was rising, reflecting and refracting light beams every which way.

The haze had dissipated and the sky turned pure sapphire by the time I reached my workplace. The sun had no competition now. The brightness of the crystal clear day buoyed me.

A lengthy phone call interrupted my regular startup office routine, which included turning on the radio. The caller went on and on, unnecessarily repeating point after point.

The second line on my phone rang. By the time I could rid myself of the windy caller, the other call had already gone into my voice mail.

Soon the little red light on the phone began to blink, the signal that I had a message. It was from our son, who lived and worked in New York City. Despite the passage of time, I can still distinctly hear his words.

“Dad,” Nathan’s message said, “Something has happened at the World Trade Center. We don’t have Internet or TV. Can you tell me what’s going on?”

I hung up and quickly turned on the radio. The first thing I heard was that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. I bolted to the receptionist’s desk to find out what was happening. I was told that a plane had flown into one of the Twin Towers in New York City.

I tried to reach my son at his workplace, which was just south of Times Square. Neither his office phone nor cell phone would ring through. Fear gripped me.

Nathan's shadow by Bruce Stambaugh

Our son, Nathan, during a break while on a work project near San Marcos, Ocotopeque, Honduras


I went to a TV to watch what was happening. By then, the second tower had been hit, and reports were coming in of another plane down in southwestern Pennsylvania.

At 10:45 a.m., I was paged for a phone call. I picked up the line and it was my son.

“Dad,” he said trying to cover his anxiety, “I don’t know how I got a line out to you. I just wanted you to know that I’m OK but that Manhattan is locked down. No one is going in or out.”

Despite our mutual fears, an indescribable light of love connected my son and I through those phone wires. We spoke for about 10 minutes until Nathan said that others wanted to use his phone. By late afternoon we were calmed with the news that our son had safely returned to his apartment.
Holding hands by Bruce Stambaugh
At the end of that incredibly long, exhausting day another light shown. The live TV coverage broadcast a surreal scene. The evening’s sun filtered through the gray, smoldering debris at Ground Zero. A ghostly spire, all that structurally remained of the Twin Towers, reflected and refracted light beams eerily similar to those at the oak that morning. I hoped that some good could come of this horrific international catastrophe.

Now a decade removed, I still cling to that desire, though too many lives have had their own individual lights snuffed out. I long for the light of peace among all peoples, even if it means the need to share that light one person at a time.

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