In the seven days from now until the next edition of the Winchendon Courier, we'll have a whole series of midwinter holidays. I used to write a calendar of them for the UU Church of Winchendon newsletter. They're not always this close together; Hanukkah is often earlier. But this week, we have Winter Solstice or Yule (December 21), the beginning of Hanukkah (December 22 at sunset), Christmas or the Feast of the Nativity in the Orthodox Church (December 25), Kwanzaa (December 26), St. Stephen's Day (December 26) and the Feast of Saint John (December 27). Hispanic Christians celebrate Posadas Navideñas from December 16 to December 25, which commemorates the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. Around the longest nights of the year, we focus on the light.

That's harder to do these days than it used to be. Our modern world seems to have become so contentious, so suspicious, so untrusting. Many people have gotten into a bad habit: seeing everything in either-or, all-right-or-100%-wrong terms. We've lost the ability to tolerate ambiguity, which psychologists call a primary sign of both emotional maturity and intelligence. At a time of year when we're more aware of the balance between light and dark than at any other, it helps to remember that there is no purity; extremes are abstractions. We live in the middle ground, always changing, always growing, always learning, whether we're aware of it or not.

One person who surely was aware of this was the man whose birth many of us celebrate at this time of year: Jesus. When we start looking down on people in our community who don't live the same way we do, or vote the same way, or speak the same languages, or come from this country, we should remember that Jesus said there were only two commandments: love God, and love thy neighbor as thyself. By "neighbor" he didn't mean "person who has the same color skin as you do, or makes the same income or has the same politics." Your "neighbor" was any person who came close enough to you that you could have an effect on their life. Remember the kinds of people Jesus welcomed at his table and defended--everyone who was despised or outcast, including Roman centurians, tax collectors, the poor and foreigners. Especially foreigners.

Jesus remembered, and taught, the highest virtue known in the ancient world: hospitality. Everyone shared this value: Jewish people, Pagans of every stripe, Christians. Our ancestors knew that we depend on each other for survival. The world can be harsh, and at any time we could find ourselves homeless and wandering, thanks to natural disasters or war or ill fortune. If we don't show kindness and generosity to those who need it, without questioning whether they "deserve it"--then woe betide us when the wheel of fortune turns and we're the ones in need.

We're all going to welcome the lengthening days and stronger sunlight that will slowly begin growing after Saturday. At this time of year, let's remember that the seasons are one thing that all of us have in common. If someone wishes you a cheery "Happy Holidays," or a happy specific holiday, and it doesn't happen to be your holiday, take it in the spirit it's meant. Just reply, "Thanks, and the same to you."

Inanna Arthen