That would be the annual opening of the boxes of Christmas decorations…

The must of the old newspapers in which the ornaments are wrapped, the lights a tangle of wire and plastic, everything hurriedly wrapped and put away the previous January, the boxes lying for eleven months dark and cold in the back of the closet,;the pang of joy when I plug in the lights and my palm jumps with tiny flames: electric blue, ruby red, burning white.

The crèche from Arica: three hippos painted pink and black; brown clay figures wrapped in batik loincloths: the three wise men; Joseph with a ring through his nose; Mary’s breasts bared; the baby Jesus in a basket. In the background a palm tree, a single triumphant green frond, a scrap of cotton cloth stiff with paint, attached with wire to a cardboard trunk.


The cloth and gilt dolls from India, the gold bow I found on the sidewalk in Salem, Massachusetts circa 1989, the straw angel we bought in the Dominican Republic, the terra cotta cherub from the late, lamented Claudia Laub’s Studio on Beverly Boulevard, the raffia star made by Sister Benedicta (R.I.P.), the stencilled Christmas tree on handmade red and green paper the L.A. Catholic Worker sent out one year as an invitation to their tree-trimming party.

The teardrop bulb—sea blue and hot pink stripes—I bought at Yoken’s gift shop in Portsmouth, New Hampshire the summer I stayed with Cousin Dickie at the beach house, the Guatemalan dough ornaments I bought on Water Street in Exeter one afternoon on my lunch break, the 3-D stars our Koreatown neighbor Michael made out of brown and gold gift wrap the year he died of AIDS, the Victorian decoupage balls I found in Little Tokyo, the two glossy green bunches of fake cherries I brought back from Cholula, Mexico, the lights I got at an after-Chrismas sale at the Thrifty’s on Wilshire before it merged with Rite-Aid and moved to Vermont sometime after the divorce.

A history of the places where I have lived, the countries from which I have been granted a safe return, the stream of family and friends who have buoyed me up, borne me along, given me the strength to endure.

The Advent calendar I bought at the 99-Cent Store several seasons back. December 1st: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…”

“We can do no great things,” said Mother Teresa. “Only small things with great love.”



  1. Merely reading the circumstances under which you obtained the different decorations is oddly fortifying and cheering! The givers of the gifts, or the makers of the ornaments, form (we imagine) a kind of prolepsis of the communion of heaven!

  2. Danny, thanks for the comment, most of which is now moot (also there's nothing to attach it to) as I removed the piece. I would think the “bad form,” if any, would be on the part of the person who approached me (and God bless him; we bloggers are all spending massive amounts of mostly unpaid time and effort, and all want to get our work out there) knowing the piece was copyrighted, or having failed to take the care and time to ascertain whether it was copyrighted, and suggesting that I share it with my readers.

    The mistake on my part, I'm thinking, was more promoting a piece that was an opinion; the kind of pronouncement I generally try to avoid myself. One problem with pronouncements is that they tend to invite other pronouncements, and pronouncements tend to make my eyes glaze over…

    I’m not much interested in the “new media” you mention. I’m not interested in getting paid for my Catholic opinions. I’m interested in living them out and writing about them with hope and joy—which is one reason the writing on my blog is free for the taking. And also why I am deeply grateful for the occasional donation–and for the insights, reflections, stories and encouragement you all SO GENEROUSLY share…

    By the way, two of our greatest “Catholic” writers are George Saunders (who I’ve mentioned here at least a couple of times) and Kenzaburo Oe (who I did a piece on last year at Advent).

    As you say “Empathize and adore!” Let's all keep our focus there. Many thanks for your readership and Merry Christmas to you…

    Dylan–you are very dear to God–and to me!…

  3. Anonymous says: Reply

    Heather, I'd love to know the provenance of the glitter box containing Our Lady. I let out a little Wow when I saw it.

    The simple crucifix is also beautiful.

  4. What struck me is the echo (at least to me) of the mass readings from Isaiah for Advent — how all nations and peoples will stream to the mountain of the Lord to worship Him in the World to Come, and how your wonderful collection mirrors that, in a way.

  5. I dislike being the cynical one-
    I know what Christmas is and the Catholic in my finds some comfort in this event. But, on December 25th, sometime between the hours of 1 and 4 am, my Mom(who was already suffering from advanced colon cancer) had a massive stroke and died several weeks later. Christmas is not a happy time for me. The holidays are not happy. They are memories of loss.

  6. Heather, your words are so kind to me always!
    I appreciate that you confirm I am not losing my mind and there WAS a post and I did comment. Now, the blog post is lost and my mind is found.

    I am a newbie here and when I said I would pray for you to get a job, and you responded "I already have a job! I am a writer."…. I got embarrassed at not knowing this and decided to never comment again here.

    But I read your first sentence on the defunct post, and I laughed harder and harder at each of the six times I read it. That was a great start and you should use that sentence to start a new post someday!

    I read the whole article in a good mood and then saw Max using "bad form" in his comment.
    You were ordered to obey instead of simply being told the material could be linked. Max lost viewers by saying what he said to you and dismissing the entire post resulting.

    But you simply were unaware of Creative Commons just as I was unaware that you are a writer.
    For what it is worth, Max is using version 2.5 of CC and the link I provided you is version 3.0 of the updated legalities of online work. Max is giving up rights by clinging his fist to an old version, no longer recognized.

    Anything written is an opinion by the author, whether news reported in the paper or on TV or radio, blog, emails…anything.
    The Bible is God's opinion on how He falls in love with all of us, and how we can fall in love with Him.

    Your indifference to new media surprises me as blogging online IS new media. You ARE new media.
    Books are old media, as are newspapers.

    The email to you to push an author's work was "bad form" too. It comes under the seven deadly sins.
    Perhaps greed to get more readership; or gluttony to be in first place among the varied essayists at his spot. But all sin except blaspheme of the Holy Spirit is forgivable and I hope you do that for a fellow sinner.

    "Create a link" is at the bottom of your posts/comment area, and he can do THAT on his own if he wants folks to swing by his amazing words.

    In any case, I think you did the right and proper thing throughout the entire affair, except we lose laughter from rereading the first sentence over and over.
    We serve a God with a Holy Laughter himself and that sentence made him go from invisible to visible for me! 😀

    From what I have read at your blog, you always "empathize and adore". I really like that!
    Peace always follows for any who do this.

    There is much more to what happened in that post and story, but I will defer that to another time.

    I need to turn to another commenter here, Barbara.

    God bless you abundantly, Heather.

  7. Barbara, my mom died too. My siblings would all confirm I was her favored child. In one of our final times together, she asked me "Would you take me to your father's house?', meaning my grampas…where dad grew up.

    I took her and the house was gone and a trucking firm established where families used to gather.
    Mom used her walker to go over to the now gone house of my dad/grandfather. I watched mom staring at the ground for way too long and decided to approach her.

    She looked at me and said: "Your father's house was right here" poking her walking stick to the ground.
    I told her she might be right as it was a reasonable distance from the corner, and my dad made me paint that house several times; the place was immense as there were 10 kids….Catholic immigrant grandparents.

    Mom got adamant that this was the spot. I asked her why and she said: "Look at the crack in the sidewalk".
    Then, she asked me to take her to the sole tree on the block, across the street. Before I could answer, she took off and pointed her stick at the tree, walking unaided for the first time in my memory.

    She stared at the tree for at least 4 minutes, then reached around it and hugged it, and then kissed the tree. I know my mother well, but this was perplexing.

    "What's going on mom", I queried.
    She told me: "I was coming to see your father and just as I went to walk up the front steps to the porch, he called me from this tree. He was hiding right here. The crack in the cement was directly in front of the bottom step. When I came over, your father gave me a picture of himself. It was the first picture he ever gave me….and then, behind this tree, he gave me a first kiss".

    My God, I thought…this was in the 1930's and they were barely teens. I called it the "Kissing Tree" and asked her if she would like to take a part of it with her.
    She looked like I had offered her $100 million and was astounded as I reached up, broke off a branch and gave it to her. A treasure for the heart!

    Her funeral was a few months after that and I went to the Kissing Tree and broke another branch and put it in her coffin. My siblings knew nothing of this and I told the above story. ALL have been to the Kissing tree since.

    I am out of work because I went deaf and can not travel and do sales. I could not hear the sermon by the priest, but my brother nudged me and said "He is talking about your tree".
    We were pallbearers and sitting close and I asked
    "What is he saying?"
    I read lips and my brother said "He is saying that the tree is a symbol of life" and he told me the rest at the wake that followed.

    Barbara, Christmas is very hard when we love someone and they are gone. It makes me think how lonely God is when we fail to love Him back.
    Go to a nursery nearby you and buy a small tree….anything you like that reminds you of mom.
    It needs no fancy decorations; just a manger nearby.
    Plant it outside after the holiday when planting time comes to your area. This year will be my third tree for mom as she has had three anniversaries in heaven. My yard is beginning to have LIFE and look like mom, for she is everywhere around outside, and growing by the year. DO IT!

    You will fill with love watching the trees grow every year. They are the symbol of life.
    And don't worry about the hurt in your heart.
    There is no more hurt when you have no more heart.
    Be thankful you hurt so deeply.
    It shows you have a lovely heart.
    Merry Christmas.

  8. Anonymous says: Reply


    Are you fan of David Foster Wallace?


  9. Barbara, I will say a prayer for you and your mother this afternoon when I stop by the church. May the healing waters of God's grace ease your pain, and may your mother be welcomed into the loving embrace of Christ's arms.

  10. This is beautiful, the prayers and warm wishes for Barbara, for whom this is an especially hard time of year…allow me to add mine as well, and for all of you…

  11. Gordie, I find a lot of DFW, God rest his soul, unreadable. My friend Brad, who teaches AP English here in L.A., however, recently turned me onto to Wallace's essay "Federer as Religious Experience" and it is a tour de force. So I went from thinking "DFW drives me crazy" to I'm not fit in most ways to touch the hem of his garment. I feel like he hungered for God for lack of a better word so much and could not, for fear of peer pressure/self-consciousness, quite allow himself to get there…if any of us ever do…anyway, he was supremely gifted and his depression and early death were a terrible sorrow/tragedy. So I pray for him now, keeping in mind Dorothy Day's observation that because with God there is no time, praying for someone who has died somehow helps them while they were still alive…

  12. Anonymous says: Reply


    DFW was definitely searching for God and he is always in my prayers.

    I just read your piece in Dappled Things and in my opinion what you said about Kafka applies to DFW.

    Great essay by the way. You are a blessing.


  13. Thank you, Gordie. And yes, that's exactly it, DFW, from what I can see, was like Kafka–wanting to "be born" but not quite daring to, maybe…(I don't want to purport to know his soul or to speak for him, of course)…What's interesting to me, too, is that the leap into the void often from the outside looks entirely unremarkable. It's the opposite of "extreme sports" though to me it's the most "extreme sport" there is. The drunk who gets sober, for example, and quietly goes about his or her life, trying to make whole the people he's hurt, bearing with his or her continuing neuroses, sorrows, fears, defects trying to lend a helping hand to the next drunk is in fact consenting to be born. He is doing one of the most cataclysmic, perilous, courageous things it is possible to do on this earth…He may hesitate about very many other things, but he has consented to die to his identity as an alcoholic and be "born"…It is a terrifying leap–because we don't know who or what we will become!–which is why many don't make it…We have a terrible psychic fear of ridicule–what if people make fun of me for believing in God, for longing for the transcendent, for leaving cynicism behind?

    "They" may in fact ridicule you, but one of the myriad ongoing astonishments of "letting go" is that you no longer care quite so much…


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