Friday, January 10, 2014

The Return of Light

Christmas is over. The grocery stores have moved on, already stocking Valentine's Day candy. Yet, we just finished reading aloud Dia Calhoun's The Return of Light: A Christmas Tale.

It's a story about trees awaiting their turn to become Christmas trees and help bring back the light. No, not the light for the religious faithful, but the light of the sun. I was so grateful to find a book that celebrates Christmas in an earth-focused way, rather than a Christian way. The trees, growing on a mountain hillside are creatures of the earth, and know the depth of the long, dark winter. They believe that Christmas marks the beginning of the return of light, longer days, and it is their role in life to help people celebrate that return.

Each year the trees whose turn it is to help the light return are touched by the magical Christmas Deer, cut, and brought to town where they will be taken home to glitter and sparkle for a family of loving people. The story has a fantastical beginning, but it grows into quite the opposite of a fairy tale. The main character is Treewing, a young tree who is told he has a "special purpose" as a Christmas tree this year.

Treewing ends up at the tree lot surrounded by his tree friends, and an odd group of people. As the story progresses, the characters are as real as they get. The lot owner is a sad and grouchy woman, the boy who lives in a van with his mother is heartbreakingly hopeful and kind, and the homeless people who continue to return to Treewing are honest and bright. Slowly the story unfolds and we are carried along to see the ties that bind them all.

Throughout the short, and poetically-written story we come to feel Treewing's fears, concerns, and worries. So much so that when the poor tree is the last one in the lot, with no family to take him home on Christmas Eve, my son began to cry. The sadness and darkness of a winter's night alone was felt deeply.

By the last chapter, when it all comes together, and the tree's purpose is known, I could barely read it aloud, I was so choked up. I was moved by the connections between the people, that good old Christmas generosity, and the realization that sometimes our expectations are not going to be met, but what is actually happening is so much better.

I highly recommend this short and sweet book. Even though Christmas has passed, winter is still here, blowing white and cold outside. We are turning slowly back towards the sun, and there is still time to celebrate The Return of Light before Valentine's Day.

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