3. The Blessing of Light
As Christmas approaches, light fades into darkness by 4 p.m. up here in the mountains. But down in the valley it’s a different story. In Middlebury, Christmas lights drip from lampposts; Chanukah candles burn in windows; buildings glow. And over on Boardman Street at the Addison County Humane Society’s no-kill animal shelter, those who share a love of animals will meet on the second Wednesday of December to light a bonfire, drink hot chocolate, play with the shelter’s mascots, and light a huge tree that celebrates our community’s four-legged friends.
Each light celebrates a specific creature. White lights honor animals who have passed on; colored lights honor those who are still bringing us joy every day of their lives. Anyone who wants to give me a Christmas present knows they should send it here. The shelter has rescued more than 19,000 animals over the past few years—including my beloved cat.
4. The Blessing of Hope
Almost everyone I know is still struggling with the economic challenges initiated by the Wall Street debacle in 2008. But this year, hundreds of people in my community will still stock the food shelves and clothes closets in every town in the area; hold hot lunches for people on fixed incomes; and, a few miles farther north in Burlington, support the Committee on Temporary Shelter, which houses more than 100 homeless families every year.
The fact that those who have little themselves will share with those who have less is humbling. But a community that makes sure its most vulnerable members are cared for gives me hope that, one day, every one of us will feed, clothe, shelter, and love one another every day of the year.
5. The Blessing of Music
On the Sunday afternoon before Christmas, more than 200 men, women, and children will eagerly climb the steps of the Middlebury Congregational Church on the village green. Chattering madly with friends and neighbors, they’ll pour into the church, unwrap their mufflers, grab a score of Handel’s Messiah from a pile stacked by the door, and slide into a pew.
It will be the 26th annual Middlebury College-Community Choir Messiah Sing, and everyone in the community will be welcome to come and sing or bring their instruments and join the orchestra. There are no rehearsals, only a couple of carols to warm up. Soloists will include community members like tenor Francois Clemmons, who played‚ “Officer Clemmons‚” for decades on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood when we were kids.
Middlebury College-Community Choir Director Jeff Rehback loves it. “Instead of going out to do last-minute shopping, they’re doing something for two and a half hours that touches them deeply,” he says. “And it makes a difference in how they experience the holidays. I often hear people leaving the concert say, ‘Now I’m ready for Christmas!’”