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Spiritual Reflections

Celebrating the Holidays with Hope

by Joyce Tompkins

Joyce Tompkins

Joyce Tompkins is the Religious Advisor to the Campus Protestant Community. Other Spiritual Reflections  are available on the Religious Advisor's page.

You can write to Joyce at

At first, I was baffled. I was preparing for my annual student Christmas party. Now my Christmas party is not any big deal, as such parties go. I invite the students from my various campus groups to my house for a few hours in the evening, just before finals begin. I have made the same simple arrangements for four years now. I clean the first floor of my house, put up a few ornaments, set up an undecorated tree in the living room with a big box of ornaments nearby, and build a fire. I do bake a few sheets of cookies, but most of the fare is bought in bulk at BJ's. Then I heat up some jugs of store-bought apple cider on the stove in a big pot, and throw in a handful of cloves and cinnamon. As I said, rather simple fare.

But as the students arrived in a large herd, I was amazed at some of their comments. Several related dreams they had had about the party the week before. Another told me that after last year's party, he had tried to replicate my cider recipe at home, but could not figure out my special technique - was it the blend of apples I used? or the particular way I strained the pulp? he asked. Two girls produced ornaments they had bought in September in anticipation of decorating my tree at this very party. A freshman presented a loaf of bread, home-baked in the dorm oven, with apologies, fearing its taste would pale in comparison with the sumptuous feast he had been prepared for by others who had attended in past years. And two Latina students had written out the words to their favorite Spanish carol, hand-written in multiple copies, so that we could welcome Christmas together in the language of their Cuban and Puerto Rican cultures.

At first, I was baffled. Why all the fuss about this simple, no-frills party? It's about projection, of course. It's about our need for God in dark times. There is nothing very special about my Christmas party. But for students, when the ten days to come hold such challenges, this brief reminder of what lies ahead if they can just survive finals week is like paradise. They take the simple container I provide and festoon it with all the joys of their imagined celebrations, so near and yet so far. It is a simple respite that carries them through the dark days to come. It gives hope.

We all need hope, no matter who we are. We all need the container of this season, on which to project our bright dreams of promises fulfilled. We all face challenges in these times time of war and economic turmoil, challenges far beyond a student's worries over exams and final papers. But we all, also, have reason to hope. At this darkest time of year the promises of God are bright and clear: the promise of peace on earth for all people, the dream of a world where justice shines in the darkness like a beacon of light. May we have the vision to believe in these promises, and the courage to make them true.