When I lived in Oregon, I had friends who I spent holidays with up in Vancouver, Washington which is right across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon. Each Thanksgiving and Christmas they would host a potluck in a community room. It would be very casual and include family, friends, friends of family, friends of friends, etc. With no set dinner times, people would come and go all afternoon and evening, eating, playing card games, hugging friends, and just hanging out.
One year, for Christmas, they decided to have a sandwich potluck because no one felt like cooking or cleaning up a huge mess. So everyone brought stuff for sandwiches, bread, meat and cheese, chips and salsa, veggie and fruit trays, etc.
That Christmas also featured a full moon, so I agreed to join Virgil in doing something special for the full moon during the gathering. We spoke about it for less than 5 minutes and agreed to each bring a candelabra. He would do the first half, and I would do the second. Other than that, no further planning.
After dark, more people showed up; many were coming from other family events. On one end of the large room, we set up a 6 foot long table with a white table cloth on it. Virgil and I each set up a candelabra. Mine had four candles on the ring with one in the center while Virgil’s had 7 candles placed along a curve like a gentle wave. Everyone else gathered around setting up chairs in several rows to accommodate all the recent arrivals.
As people got settled, Virgil lit all of his candles; I lit only the center one. We turned out all the other lights, so the candles were the only light in the room. Virgil began speaking of the journey from the longest day of the year to the shortest; how we go from the growing season, through the harvests, and into the darkest part of the year. As he spoke, he extinguished one candle at a time and the room grew dimmer.
When the last of his candles was out, I took over and began singing:
(Extinguish last candle; continue singing)
(Silence for a moment in the dark before lighting the center candle and singing.)
I repeated this last part as I continued lighting my candles, and Virgil lit his candles. Fortunately, his wife, Gyelle, who is a very gifted singer joined me and helped lead everyone to join in singing. I invited everyone to come up to the altar, set their intentions for the coming year by lighting a votive candle to illuminate their path going forward. By the time everyone had come up, the room was shining with candle light. We closed with Virgil thanking folks for coming and sharing this with us. He sent them off with love and the blessings of the divine as the full moon lights their way home. Afterwards, many came up to compliment and thank us as we offered them the small candles to take home with them.
Never in a million years would I have thought I would ever sing in front of 30+ people! Looking back on that magical night, I would much rather be there eating sandwiches off a paper plate than eating a fancy dinner on fine china. I would take that moment of song and candlelight above all the tinsel and lights on all the Christmas trees in the world. This is what I miss. For me, this is belonging; this is home.
Here is a video of The Hooters performing “One Light in a Dark Valley.”