Christmas After Christmastime

January 16, 2021

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For me, the season of Christmas is a period of reflection and contemplation. Although it’s impossible to escape the holiday, from the incessant commercialization, to the ubiquitous carols playing on every station, in quiet moments (the spaces between songs, the scent of Christmas roast, the pause between one footstep and the next in a field of untouched snow) I remember the Advent season, and I look forward to the birth of Christ.

Once we enter Epiphany, remembering Christmas becomes more difficult. Valentine’s Day replaces all the red and green with rose and pink, and even in church the number of Christmas hymns that we sing drops off. Fatigue sets in, leftovers spoil, even the white snow turns into road-slush.

Why should the joy of Christmas be limited to December? The coming of the Savior should be celebrated daily, not confined to a single season. 

Recently, I read a poet by American poet and critic Dana Gioia which I want to share.

The Stars Now Rearrange Themselves

The stars now rearrange themselves above you

but to no effect. Tonight,

only for tonight, their powers lapse,

and you must look toward earth. There will be

no comets now, no pointing star
to lead where you know you must go.

Look for smaller signs instead, the fine

disturbances of ordered things when suddenly

the rhythms of your expectation break

and in a moment's pause another world

reveals itself behind the ordinary.

And one small detail out of place will be

enough to let you know: a missing ring,

a breath, a footfall or a sudden breeze,

a crack of light beneath a darkened door.

It’s a simple poem, musical, well worth reading aloud. There’s a kind of visceral pleasure to Gioia’s poetry that lends itself to recitation.

The speaker addresses the reader directly, informing them that although the stars are reordering themselves, this effort will be fruitless. “You must look toward earth.” The movements of the heavens, often mystic, have less bearing for the reader than what occurs terrestrially.

Surely all of us who are so overwhelmed by work, by school, or by obligations can relate.

The speaker’s promise that “There will be/no comets now, no pointing star/to lead where you know you must go” reads as a clear summation of the modern world. The wise men had a physical guide showing them the way to the Christ Child. The shepherds had angels in the heavens announcing Jesus’ birth. When last did meteorological phenomena help you find your way to church?

But right after this grim statement, the speaker offers a reversal. “Look for smaller signs instead.” The heavens won’t open to reveal choirs of angels, but “the fine/disturbances of ordered things” might. The syntax in the second stanza shows the reader how such unexpected disturbances might manifest themselves. The line break between “fine” and “disturbances” leaves the reader hanging, and the final two lines of the poem, the promise that “in a moment's pause another world/reveals itself behind the ordinary” seem miles removed from the “smaller signs” at the beginning.

Gioia offers some examples of these “smaller signs” that can reveal “another world.” They are the “little disturbances” that we’re all familiar with, something missing, something unanticipated, “a crack of light beneath a darkened door.” Even though the reader “must look toward earth,” their world is full of illumination. If starlight fails, there is always the dim glow of candles. Revelation can, revelation must, come from the mundane.

“The Stars Now Rearrange Themselves” is Christmas poem for ordinary times. It’s a brief, brilliant reminder to look for Christian hope and joy in all our daily struggles.

In the coming year, I hope to find these reminders more frequently.

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