Things are different out in the valley. There’s a lot of land, which means lots of driving between Points A and B. For example, to get to my childhood home you would literally have to go over the river and through the woods, cross a mountain, and keep your eyes peeled for deer, possums, and sometimes stray livestock along the way. The drive can range from relaxing to devastating, depending on the weather and time of day.

It was during one of these treks home that I saw Rudolph, the most famous reindeer in the history of reindeer being famous. I was young, not quite in kindergarten, and I understood that Christmas was coming; I just didn’t know when. My parents had explained it to me, telling me how many days were left, but four-year olds aren’t known for their mathematical prowess or patience, and I was feeling frustrated.

Then, from my place in the backseat, I barely made out a small, blinking red light in the sky. It was Rudolph. I was certain of it. Suddenly everything was different. Christmas was coming, and it was coming soon! The proof was in the cold night sky – Rudolph was leading Santa and his sleigh full of gifts to my house, his bright red nose lighting the way! I was excited, even joyful, sure that the next day was Christmas.

It turns out I was wrong, and that Rudolph was actually just scouting the area for Santa, possibly from atop a radio tower. I was disappointed, but my parents told me that I’d know Christmas was coming by the lights. They improvised, telling me that as Christmas gets closer people decorate their houses with lights so that Santa will know that good girls and boys live there. At four, this made more sense to me than counting days and weeks, so I made a mental note to remember that the lights are a sign of good things to come.

It’s been years since I last saw Rudolph, and in that time, I’ve developed a greater understanding of the holiday season. There are countless religious, cultural, and family traditions, and despite their unique perspectives of the season, they all have something in common: The holidays are a time for us to come together, to find warmth and comfort during a cold, barren season of short days and long, dark nights. When the world is at its worst, we find the best in ourselves and give to each other, honoring the bonds and relationships we share with others throughout the year. We give hospitality in the most inhospitable of seasons and share our goodness with the world. What better way to represent this than with light?

For me, light is what the season is all about. A light in the darkness is the physical manifestation of hope, a sign that there is warmth and safety in an otherwise bleak midwinter filled with silent nights and gently falling snow. The light shows us the world through new eyes, illuminating houses, streetlamps, and the main streets of the towns we call home. Everything we thought we knew, everything that becomes normal with time, is suddenly reborn as something new, something different, something special. In the glow of twinkling lights, anything seems possible.

I may have been wrong about Rudolph all those years ago, but the lesson I learned was true. The lights are a sign of good things to come because they represent the light inside us, the part of us that wants to be a good. It’s the part that gets so excited by the possibilities of a twinkling red light on the horizon that we can’t help but share our joy with those around us.

Happy Holidays to you, dear reader, and may your season be warm, merry and bright!