In A Christmas Carol (the book, not the movies) there is a part after Ebeneezer Scrooge (spoiler alert!!) comes to love Christmas and his fellow men when he goes for a walk along the streets of London Town.
He went to church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and fro, and patted children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of houses, and up to the windows, and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed that any walk—that anything—could give him so much happiness.
I wonder what Scrooge would have seen as he walked along the street? Probably the families gathered around, the cook busy baking, the servants scurrying to and fro to get things ready. The book doesn’t specify what time he sets off to his nephew’s house, but he goes ‘to dine’ so I presume that’s late afternoon or early evening. I think that means the houses will have their lights lit up. Gas lights, or candle light, and certainly no electric bulbs. I like to imagine the glow of a lamp left in the window to light the way, or the streetlamps being lit by the lamplighters padding their daily route. You can still see gas lamps working in London every night, in the district around Piccadilly. Still lit by hand, by a team of men just as in Dickens’ day. Until 1807 London was a dark, dangerous place. No place for decent folk to wander about at night. Once street lighting was installed, evening walks became fashionable, and walking the streets at night was something Dickens loved to do for inspiration.
I’m very fond of taking evening walks at this time of year especially. I love looking up to the windows, looking into the houses and generally being nosy. The lights are on, the Christmas decorations up and the whole street shines with a feeling that isn’t there on any other cold, wet, winter’s night.
You see, Christmas and lights are inextricably linked. The very date itself was set to match the Winter solstice and the birth of the Sol Invictus, the Unconquerable Son, in Roman times. Human nature seeks a festival in the darkest, coldest point of the year, when daylight is at its most precious and time outside limited. We see our family gathered around the fire, candles flickering and we feel safe, hyggely, cosy together, sharing stories and telling tales (although nowadays our tales are mostly told for us and by the TV) but the most wonderful thing about humanity is that then we look outside and feel some responsibility for our fellow men.
For Christians, Jesus is often called ‘The Light of the World’. He comes to chase away the darkness of sin and death. Christian or not, we should share his love for our fellow men and work to share the light. At Christmas time that becomes a literal light, the chain of fairy lights slung up in the window, or the twig star we hung in the door. At other times of the year our lights need to be more metaphorical. We share his love for mankind, his desire to help, his commandment to love others as ourselves. I think even if we don’t accept Jesus as our Saviour, we can see the sense in trying to be a light in the darkness for other people: for brightening the pain of loss, the night of want or the need for comfort by being, ourselves, a light for others.
Take your family, and go walking around your neighbourhood (as long as it is a safe place) and as you do, think of the people you know and the many you don’t, and bless them. Wish for them a year filled with light, and love and laughter. Let life yield you pleasure.