I don’t know what the ratio of children celebrating Christmas was to other seasonal winter holidays, but I imagine there was such anticipation in the air of all the joy this particular holiday brings–that of peace and goodwill to all. It is the time of the great Light Festivals beginning with Diwali and ending with Christmas or Hanukkah (depending on when Hanukha falls in the Jewish calendar).
All the expectation and joy of Christmas, presents from Father Christmas; chocolate gold and other gifts to celebrate Hanukkah; the season’s Festival of Light was about to begin.
Hanukkah that year began on the 16th December and would end on December 24th, passing the baton of light to Christmastide, which would reign for the next twelve days. But the twenty children at Sandy Hook Elementary School who died at the hands of a mass shooter would never see these things again. Their lives were snuffed out in the blink of an eye.
Mass shootings are now an occurrence of such regularity in the United States it has been calculated that since Sandy Hook, on average, one child has died every other day as the result of a mass shooting. These shootings have taken place in schools, cinemas, malls and other public spaces: all places that should have been a safe haven for any of us to occupy, let alone for children to attend without fear.
On the 14th of December 2012, I was in the middle of putting up Christmas ornaments over my fireplace mantel when I heard the news. Among my Christmas decorations I had placed a large angel on a side table in honour of my childhood memories of Christmas as the holy birth of Christ.
I was raised a Catholic and until the age of eighteen attended Church every Sunday, and on every Holy Day of Obligation. This ritual had begun with my First Holy Communion made at the age of six.
I left the Church at the age of eighteen. My mother told me after I had missed going to Sunday Mass once, when I was sixteen, as long as I lived her house I had to attend Church until I was old enough to vote. Shortly before this incident, Great Britain had lowered the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen.
Even though I no longer attend Church, Christmas has always remained for me a Holy Holiday, a Festival of Light, a moment of remembering Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All.
In my house it was first and foremost a sacred holiday. There were presents, and as a child I loved receiving and giving them. But from a young age I was aware of what I can only call The Mystery of God. So that even though I no longer believe in the God I was raised to worship I still believe in the Great Mystery of our interconnectedness, that mystery the Mystics call the Sacred, or the Divine.
The shooting at Sandy Hook destroyed one of our most sacred holy holidays celebrated around the world.
On that Friday, I made a small memorial for Sandy Hook, surrounding my Christmas angel with tea lights. On the floor I placed a number of Jewish memorial candles. I have continued this ritual every year. As soon we turn the corner into the month of December I am aware of the 14th looming on the horizon.
Every December my heart breaks for these children who had barely begun to create their destinies in the vast tapestry of Life, and for the adults who died with them. Every time I hear of another mass shooting in America my heart breaks all over again.
Today I watched a news programme briefly of a mother who spoke of how difficult it is to walk down school hallways, especially around this time, where the walls in corridors have Christmas artwork made by children from different years. These wounds will never be closed for these parents or for any parent who has lost a child to violence. I have no words of comfort. All I have to offer is the love and light in my heart for them today and every day.