Rabid Fun

John Cowart's Daily Journal: A befuddled ordinary Christian looks for spiritual realities in day to day living.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Candle In A Bag — Luminary Night

Note To Family & Friends: The violent storm front Saturday night knocked out two of our phones and our answering machine. (Front came through and the temperature here in Jacksonville dropped almost 50 degrees in 24 hours). The phone in the back room still works but you have to let it ring and ring till we can get back there.

Also, check out the home decorations at Oak & James streets (a block behind where Eve used to live on Park Street). It’s one of the finest displays I’ve ever seen. They are computer generated animations moving so I couldn’t get a photo, but it’s well worth going by to see.


During Luminary Night Sunday, at a Living Manger Scene sponsored by some church I overheard a woman.

In the press of the crowds of people in the street pressing forward, she and her friend were moving away from the front and her friend was complaining about not being able to see because of the throng.

Without knowing it, this lady summed up the real spirit of Christmas. “Well, I saw the baby Jesus, and he wasn’t very impressive,” she said.


He hardly ever is.

The meek and lowly one born to serve and to save.

He had no form nor comeliness that when we see Him, we should desire Him.

Despised and rejected of men.

Nothing new about that.

Ginny and I walked for about two miles enjoying Luminary Night Sunday. It’s always a blast. It’s a cross between “Silent Night” and a Mardi Gras riot in December.

The initial idea was simple — but it ballooned.

A Luminary is a light. A simple candle in a white paper bag anchored in place by an ounce or two of sand. Nothing to it:

These bags glow softly.

Not very impressive.

But on Luminary Night in Jacksonville’s Riverside section, where we live, people set out thousands upon thousands upon thousands of these lights in front of their homes and line the streets:

There is a tradition, legend, fairy tale, whatever, that these lights along the roads are supposed to help Christ find his way. They light the way to your home so he can find you:

That’s theological nonsense but great fun.

As though the God who created the universe doesn’t know how to work a GPS. As though He who calls every star by name and knows every hair on our head, doesn’t know one street from another. As though the Light of the World, needed a tea candle in a paper bag — Luminaries are a silly idea and I love them!

Luminary Night is always my favorite part of the Christmas Season.

While quite side streets glow with the little bags of light welcoming Christ, the main drags of Riverside/Avondale flash with every gaudy idea ever associated with a secular Christmas:

No one in particular organizes or controls Luminary Night (although the Riverside Avondale Preservation Society sells bags, sand and candles as a fund-raiser). Everybody does their own thing in wholesome fun just because they want to. And thousands of people walk the streets for no other reason than to stroll, see lights and enjoy.

See the float behind Ginny? Scores of drivers decorate cars, trailers, trucks, buses — and decorate them anyway they please. Folks may dress up as Santa, reindeer, snowmen, Elvis, the Grinch, Batman, belly-dancers — whatever.

And the impromptu floats are just as varied. We saw one rolling along with a Power Point computer presentation being shown from the back of a pickup truck. When I say rolling along, I mean, the traffic creeps; Ginny and I walk faster than traffic on the main drags moves. And kids sing, cheer and toss candy to bystanders.

The glory of all this is it’s complete lack of organization — just folks having wholesome fun for the fun of it.

Homes decorate according to the taste of the owner with displays telling Bible stories or fairy tales, to … to… Well, to whatever:

Some people hold open house. Some assemble their church choirs on the lawn to carol. Some offer anything from a toke, to hot chocolate and cookies. Some let strangers sit on their front porches.

Others build fires in braziers so passersby can warm their hands.

Ginny and I strolled both the main drags and the still, silent back streets. We got so interested in the conversation we were having that we forgot and walked way past where our car was parked.

I know some sincere Christians bemoan the secularization of Christmas. I respect their stance. But I love it. I love the camaraderie of strangers handing out chocolate and building fires for strangers. I love kids excited to meet a snowman (or Elvis)…

Yes, it is all glitz and gaudiness.

No, it has nothing to do with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Yes it is rooted in the Saturnalia.

So what?

So what if God does not need tea candles to find His way?

Isn’t this misguided custom an unconscious acknowledgement that He is looking for us?

And that on some lever, we are glad He is?

Isn’t this a way of responding to say, “Lord, here I am”?

In all of this falderal last night I thought of an old cartoon I once saw.

In front of a huge crowd of pagan worshipers this priest is throwing babies onto a fire in front of a horned idol. As two guys on the back row whisper, one says, “No, I don’t really believe in it any more either — but it’s a lovely old custom that ought to be preserved”.

Please, visit my website for more www.cowart.info and feel free to look over and buy one of my books www.bluefishbooks.info
posted by John Cowart @ 4:57 AM


At 10:30 AM, Blogger Amrita said...

Love your Luminary Night celebration. I groan at the commercialization of Christmas but this is just building up a sense of community and enjoying together. i love the idea of candles in a bag.The pictures are lovely. the floats and the tree and Ginny smiling.

A good time to witness too.

At 4:48 PM, Blogger jellyhead said...

What a beautiful celebration night. Luminary Night sounds warm, friendly and sparklingly pretty. Glad to hear you and Ginny had a great evening out!

At 8:54 PM, Blogger agoodlistener said...

"See the float behind Ginny?" I'm sorry but Ginny herself was distraction enough. She makes an adorable elf....she was an elf--right?


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