It’s an early dusk of a late December day. Traffic is heavy. I’m returning home from an overcrowded grocery store. Everyone is in a rush and in a bad mood. A screech of tires and a blast of horns bring traffic to a halt. A loud outpouring of profane road rage ensues. That’s not unusual in crowded metropolitan living. But it’s Christmas Eve. What happened to peace and goodwill? 

At home, I snack as I recover from my harrowing shopping trip. I put on a pot of apple cider spiced with cinnamon and cloves. I make myself comfortable in a padded chair in my living room, but leave the TV and the lights off. Solitude and deepening darkness comfort me in my refuge from chaos and cacophony. 

Crass commercialism permeates the spirit of the holidays and chills the warmth of well-wishing. A call rings out, “Deck the halls with advertising, it’s the season for enterprising” (Tom Lehrer). Commerce interjects valuation to gift-giving and makes the expense of a gift a measure of loving and caring. As war refugees, in 1944, my mother and I had only our embraces for each other to exchange at Christmas. 

World War II robbed me of my childhood. Throughout my lifetime there has been no period without a war or conflict, and wars continue to blaze. There is no complete peace on earth. Will there ever be a time when “young men will learn war no more?” (Isaiah 2:4).

In our country, outcries of anger, a profusion of hate crimes, mass murders, and racial bigotry obscure goodwill, and aggravate the strife of our political divide. But America’s goodwill reveals itself in the dedication of the first responders. Unquestioningly, they fling themselves in harm’s way to rescue, to heal, to nurture, and comfort all the victims of disasters. In response to expressions of gratitude, they remark, “We’re only doing our jobs.” They are America’s greatness. 

The aroma of cinnamon and clove-spiced hot apple cider floats from my kitchen. A sip conjures up a memory of my Christmas in 1939. I was 6 years old. My parents brought me to live on my grandfather’s ancestral farm. 

The traditional Lithuanian Christmas Eve table had a layer of straw and hay under its tablecloth, symbolic of the manger. Christmas Eve was a day of fasting, thus the 12 dishes of the meal were meat-less. There were salads, soup, cheeses, and fresh baked sourdough rye bread. Oh yes, and a cup of spiced hot apple cider. The fragrances made my mouth water. The dining room was lit by candles on the table and kerosene lamps in the corners of the room. I was enthralled. 

After the meal people prepared to attend Midnight Mass. I was tucked into bed. 

It’s late. My thoughts are slowing down. I feel the tender embrace of drowsiness. A faint sound of a ringing church bell blends with my solitude. It’s St. Edmund Church on Oak Park Avenue. The bell calls the faithful to Midnight Mass. They will renew their dedication to peace, hope, and goodwill. 

I’ll join them in thought and spirit, as I yield to the sweetness of sleep.

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