Bitter cold crept through our coats and scarves as my husband and I waited in a line that stretched the length of the building, but the glittering glow in the Gaiser Conservatory at Manito Park beckoned.
Each year Spokane Parks employees turn the greenhouse into a winter wonderland, decorating tropical and subtropical plants with 30,000 twinkling lights.
Once inside, a blast of warm humid air quickly dissipated the winter chill. Cactuses clad in Christmas lights, a shining snowman waving from his sparkling foliage perch, and a Christmas tree made from scarlet poinsettias, dazzled our eyes. We soaked in the sights, absorbing the radiance before heading out into the pitch-black evening.
Making our way down the South Hill, we stopped at Cowley Park just below Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital. That’s where the team from Spokane Winter Glow Spectacular set up a shimmering display complete with an enchanted forest, a gingerbread house and of course, the North Pole.
Children laughed and shouted around us as we walked through the park, their faces illuminated by a multicolored luster.
We returned home to our own festive outdoor display. Derek and our teenage son had worked hard to arrange the deer, candy canes, angel and trees in our yard.
This year more than ever, I crave the glow of Christmas lights. They are a beautiful way to defy the ever encroaching darkness.
December 21 marks Winter Solstice in Spokane. It’s the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Some refer to it as the longest night. It’s also the darkest day as the North Pole is tilted farthest from the sun.
It’s fascinating that this year Hanukkah – the Jewish Festival of Lights – is also observed just when the nights are the longest and darkest.
Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after a group of Jewish warriors defeated the occupying Greek armies. The festival celebrates the triumph of light over darkness.
For eight days, Jewish families lit a candle in a menorah, remembering the ancient miracle of a small vial of oil found by the Maccabees meant to last only a day, but instead lasted for eight.
I think many of us long for a celebration of light in the depths of December. Darkness isn’t always simply a physical absence of light.
A scripture passage our pastor read recently resonates.
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” Isaiah 9:2.
As I write, the sun sets, though it’s barely 4 p.m. I slip away from my desk to turn on our outdoor display. In the living room, I plug in the Christmas tree’s twinkling lights, and then make my way from candle to candle, switching on 13 tiny, flickering battery-operated votives in their translucent holiday globes. Lastly, I strike a match and breathe in the fragrance of a cinnamon-scented candle.
Tonight my husband and sons won’t need to follow a star to find a miracle. Instead, they’ll return to a home that’s filled with warmth and welcome. Sometimes that’s miraculous enough.
Soon every day will be just a little bit brighter, the sun will rise a tad earlier.
And that’s my holiday wish for you. May your darkness always be dispelled by light.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5.
Contact Cindy Hval at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.