Sunday, December 23, 2012


It's already the day before Christmas in Bangkok and in Hong Kong. In Seattle daylight is just beginning to brighten at a little past ten am on the 23rd. At this time of day, the sky outside my window belongs to the birds--sometimes seagulls the size of small puppies soar rather menacingly past my view. They're big enough to smash through the glass if they wanted to. Fortunately they seem to be bird brains.

This time of year for me is a festival of light and love. I wish I lived somewhere that would allow me to build a bonfire. Instead I light candles and jam clear lights, along with glittering, multi-colored balls, into a jar. I bake things that make my small apartment smell of ginger, cinnamon, and dark molasses. I wrap gifts for people I love with a lot of enthusiasm and very little artfulness. All of this is what Christmas means to me.

In Bangkok, New Year's is the time that all of this happens and that for me that makes complete sense. One year a friend invited me to her house on New Year's Eve. Her entire extended family was there, including a baby; we ate to the point of coma-risk and I was home well before midnight. It was the perfect way to end a year.

Somewhere not too far from my quiet little neighborhood, credit cards are flashing brightly and cash terminals are blazing hot. This holiday has become a retail frenzy, something I'm grateful not to be part of. I'm content to watch the light and be as quiet as possible as the year ends.

Calendars create artificial divisions to time. What does it mean that 2012 is over and 2013 begins? What counts is the fading of light and its slow rebuilding of strength. We fill our shortest days with attempts to grant each other's wishes, while our real wish at this time is that the sun will come back.

In Thailand, during an eclipse, people make offerings to Rahu, the god of darkness. Black food is put with candles and incense to appease his ravenous appetite so he won't devour the sun (or the moon, as the case may be.) In this part of the world, we send out light and love and as much joy as we can muster. Without those offerings, who knows if the sun would ever return?

My array of food on the 25th won't include a black chicken but I hope it will still pass muster. In my window, candles will gleam into the darkness, asking for a longer, larger light for the whole world.

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