I come from people who made paper stars for Christmas. They made them in their native Poland, and when their pilgrimage took them to Canada’s West Coast where I was born, they were still making them. And here my parents taught my siblings and me to make them.
The many hours we spent together peacefully folding long strips of white paper into delicate stars are among my happiest getting-ready-for-Christmas memories. Hung from black threads, sometimes red or golden, these white miracles had quiet prominence on our Christmas tree, year after year after year. I say “miracles,” because how can you expect mere strips of paper, even when folded just so, to turn into exquisite kindred spirits of the heavenlies? And that your own hands, guided by your parents’ hands, were part of the developing miracle?
These white paper stars still decorate my Christmas tree, though I really need to make some new ones. A beautiful tradition, these fragile white paper stars made by patient, diligent hands and hopeful hearts. Their beauty, simple yet elusive, is a testimony to faith and love, to courage in uncertainty, and to lasting goodness. They are a small reminder of the homeland I never knew but have since happily visited, and to the meaning of homeland as we are pilgrims at various stations. They speak to me still of the meaning of Advent and Christmas when we would be making these paper stars.
Advent is a traditional time of anticipation. It’s the time of new beginnings as we head into celebrating the coming of Christ. It can be a quiet time of growing joy. It’s also a time when we might more consciously await the Second Coming of Christ. In the darkness, the light grows brighter.
But we know that this season is often cited as one of the saddest times of year for many people. A time when loneliness is felt more keenly, pain more bitterly. What might the season of Advent and Christmas mean to you this year? Has it been a good year? Do you expect you’ll get together with family and friends—or not? If not, do the bright memories of happier times nourish you, help support you at this time? Or is the pain all the greater?
Last Christmas one of my artistic cousins in Europe sent me another paper star, a different kind that she’d learned to make and was excited to give me. It arrived as a small square shape which I learned to unfold, unfold, unfold, and then secure its extravagant splendour with the attached beads on the string. (Even in the unfolding I needed my cousin’s instructions. I didn’t get it right the first time, no.) And at last, the glorious blue star had its place of honour near the top of our Christmas tree. A marvel, this shining magnificence made by loving hands and a joyous heart. How its humble quadrangular form held the beginnings of splendour spoke volumes: a sign of family, of homeland in the heart across the globe, and of the meaning of the Christmas miracle wherever we find ourselves to be. Christ has come, and He is coming back. There is no loneliness that He cannot fill, no sorrow that He cannot redeem.
This Christmas season I look forward to hanging up my cousin’s special star again. To thinking upon the new that remembers the old and treasures every good. To pondering how beauty, so fragile, is stronger than we know, and to how humble beginnings, so easily overlooked, grow into brilliance, outlasting many troubles, offering a paean of praise.
This Christmas season I also look forward to good reading. I started by reading C. S. Lewis’s poem “The Nativity” to my students the other day:
Among the oxen (like an ox I’m slow) . . . .
Among the asses (stubborn I as they). . . .
Among the sheep (I like a sheep have strayed)
I watch the manger where my Lord is laid. . . .
I look forward to returning to Katherine Paterson’s collection of short stories, including “Angels and Other Strangers”–stories that take us right into where life can hurt the most, and there find Christ.
With the help of Malcolm Guite and the work of other poets he includes in this collection, including some non-Christians, Waiting on the Word: A poem a day for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, I’d like to daily reflect on the ongoing miracle of the Incarnation. Join Malcolm in what he refers to as a counter-cultural, subversive act: instead of skimming over the lines, read them aloud and slowly. I wonder what will happen in that space of inner quietness if I do.
My hope for my readers and me is this: that the quiet signs of Advent and Christmas will fill us anew with joy. And when our emotions waver, and even spell doom, possibly in the very dark straits that we find ourselves in, that we would come awake to the small signs of our true hope.
Advent blessings—and Merry Christmas!
To learn more about making Christmas and other good memories—and what these could mean when the hard times roll in— remember to pick up your copy of Letters to Annie. (see Letter 3)
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Watch for my January blog: “Release, Rewire, Renew.”