When my son was six years old, we were travelling overnight by train from Washington DC to Chicago to spend Christmas with friends. When we boarded the train, after several east coast commuter rails to get to DC, we were told that the train had over sold and there was not a single seat open for us. My husband headed to the lounge several cars away but my son was exhausted and in those moments of figuring out what to do, a fever hit him as well. We needed to sit down and rest wherever we could find it and at that moment, the nearest place was the floor. Several women were kind enough to move some luggage around to clear a space for us and between suitcases, at the feet of our fellow travelers, that is where we curled up and snuggled for two hours. A few hours later, we were finally in our sleeper car, the stars blazing out our window. When we reflect on Christmases past, my son and I agree that those hours spent on the floor of the train as it hurled through the starry night were filled with magic.
Last year, I wrote the following piece when I realized that we were again in a new surrounding without our possessions but what a wonderful gift that was. Being out in the world without our possessions seems to bring us closer to the meaning of Christmas and to the choir of stars that sing to us this magical time of year.
Here is the story as I wrote it for our school newsletter:
When we travelled to Viroqua this spring, we brought only what fit in the 4 ft sportrack on top of our car. Everything else went into storage, one thousand and thirty seven miles away. A hundred times I have wondered how we would do without this or that but one by one we have gotten by without each “thing”. I felt I was growing in gratitude for the simplicity of living this way until this weekend when it hit me: we had brought nothing for Christmas. On Sunday, as I made my mental preparations and lists for Advent, I felt certain I must have tucked away a box of stars, Mary kneeling, the angel chimes. But I hadn’t. And thus on the eve of Advent, I found myself sitting in our dining room with a sweet but simple paper advent calendar I picked up at the co-op. I began to make a space for it on the hutch when I noticed that behind some of our books was a large blue felt sack. My heart leapt. We had not brought stockings or any of the wise men, but we had brought my son’s bag of stones. I brought the bag over to the table and began to take them out one at a time: smooth black slate stone from summers in Vermont on Lake Champlain, a sharp amethyst given to us by the Waldorf school as a house warming gift when we moved to Canada, a spongey brown pebble fished from the nearby creek with grandpa this summer. There were many crystals and quartz from Winter Fair’s past, each one imbued with its own special feeling. But my favourite were two small, painted gold stones, their sheen now dull from play. It feels long ago now when our school's Kindergarten teacher, Mr. Daniel, took a quiet joy in hiding these in the school sandbox before the children arrived. No fuss was made over them, but the children were delighted when one was found, a remembrance of the mineral world in all four seasons. Here, in the noiseless winter night, caught without our possessions, Advent did arrive in the light of stones.