Monday, November 24, 2014

A Star for Christmas

A personal remembering by Melinda Pillsbury-Foster

On Thanksgiving Day of 2001 my kids asked me a question as we sat around the table after dinner. It had been a perfect holiday filled with happy memories revisited and cooperative efforts over turkey and stuffing. 

This was one of those questions you never anticipate having asked but it lead to many insights and to this book. 

Later I sat down to write an explanation about where the family custom Ayn asked about had originated. Looking for the origin of the Star became a quest into the dusty reaches of my own mind and heart, through paper trails and the lives of people long forgotten. I found the Star and confronted many more unasked questions; I found many answers I didn’t know needed answering.

But this is still the explanation I sat down to write for my children. It is still the story of the Star for Christmas. 

The Beginning
Dearest Children,
Each of you grew up with the Christmas Star carrying your dreams, wishes and thoughts to the top of the tree on Christmas Eve. That has always been my favorite moment of the Christmas Season. 

I can shut my eyes and see the succession of trees, one after another. Tinsel and evergreen scents always make me smile. They always take me to that moment. Hearing you each read your wish and intention from the previous year was all delight; listening to my own was nearly always painful and frustrating. My wishes never came true. I felt as if I was treading water; and not very successfully, I might add. 

You wanted the real story and you are going to get it. I loved the Star, loved listening to each of you grow up in thought and acted intention even as I grew more and more bewildered over my inability to accomplish what I thought were my own goals. 

It hadn’t always been like that. 

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. But we all know it does not mark the date of His birth but the approximate time of Winter Solstice, the ancient human celebration of the year turning itself back from death toward life. The Solstice marks the moment in time when the process of death reverses itself. The descent into dark and cold pause and the world is born again. It is an entirely appropriate day to mark the birth of a Savior. Winter is still present but the template for the coming seasons are now locked in promise of renewal. To our distant ancestors it must have been magic. As with all life and faith it holds mysteries unsummed and untasted. 

Did I understand this truth when I started the custom of the Star for Christmas? I think unconsciously I did. 

You asked a question and I am going to answer it. How did the custom start? 

Answers are amazing things. 

When someone is 45 years in the grave we stop thinking about him as he was, especially when that person lives in the minds of others as a legend. But Jimmy had not become the legendary James Dean when I knew him. 

He was just a skinny young man who hunched his shoulders and peered at the world through thick glasses. 

You have probably seen his three movies. Most people hold an image in their minds of Jimmy that is more movie than reality. That is not unreasonable. He did not live long enough to express who he was through a lifetime of acts. But the Jimmy I knew was not like the image. 

Images and reality only rarely match.
It has taken me two years from Ayn’s asking to this book. I discovered, on retrospection, that my reasons were as complex as my knitting bag when you kids finished rerolling my yarn. 

The colors followed twisted and unconsidered paths linking the events and emotions from many lives that had touched my own. 

The answer was the peace found in silence, the images preserved in photographs and James Dean. You tell me which was most unlikely. 

When you finish reading this, you will understand. 

Your question forced me to think about the whys of Melinda; tracing thoughts into a past I didn’t like remembering to find the answer you wanted. I went looking for the Star and found myself.