Most Christmas decorations didn’t get out of storage this year and what went up was simple and nice and enough. But one little string of lights I couldn’t get to turned out to be more illuminating that I could have imagined.

For years while my sons were growing up, we collected heritage Christmas villages and their assorted delightful trimmings and townfolk and had great fun setting it all up on blankets of puffy ‘snow’ on different table tops in the house each year.  We lit each building by connected strings of lights so that each home, church, station, shop, bakery, pub, tavern, business or townhouse was lit from inside and the windows glowed and the overall effect was just wonderful.

Over the years the project grew more modest by necessity since they were away studying and living elsewhere, but some of the village has continued to go up each year. This year, I almost couldn’t get Christmas together at all, overwhelmed with work and other demands, but we were going to be together again in our home for the first time in almost three years so I went into overdrive and got done what I could. One tabletop village sort of came together, though much simpler than ever before. But what bothered me a bit was that only half of the buildings are lit. One string of six lights would complete the project on the other side, but I couldn’t quickly find it, and never got the chance again to search.

Family came in, and that’s all that mattered all along. We had a simple but beautiful Christmas and continue to enjoy the gift of family. One evening this week, sitting by the Christmas village with the son who’s been on the other side of the world for nearly three years, I said it was great enjoying this together again, and added ‘I just wish I could get the rest of the village lit,’ as a passing thought. Always ready with a dry quip, he shook his head and said ‘Yeah, I feel sorry for the folks on this side of town whose power is out. They’re in the dark.’ I laughed, and planned to find the lights.

The next day, I saw the village differently. For me, it became symbolic of our national ‘community’ this holiday season, after Hurricane Sandy, after Newtown, Connecticut. Families and businesses in parts of New Jersey and New York have suffered tremendous loss of property or damage to what they have left, suffered long without power. Then there’s the darkness of evil and horror that fell on Newtown the morning of the Sandy Hook elementary school shootings, the slaughter of 20 young children and six adults, who wouldn’t see Christmas again, much less trimmings and decorations.

That’s what I think of looking at our village, and I lift a prayer for all those people and others in other places who have lost loved ones, or have no family, or belongings that cover basic needs. The news cycles aren’t filled now with their stories, and though we won’t forget what happened in any place where disaster struck and though relief organizations are still there aiding and delivering material and human support to those in need, there’s so much need and we’re so overloaded and distracted. So we sort of do forget.

We have to be the light for those without power, in more ways than one. Any charitable contribution we can make, any kindness we can show, every prayer said and dollar donated and hand outstretched changes things.

My other son recently called my attention to this site, the Fred Rogers Company where his gracious wisdom lives on, that soothing and kind presence he always was on his profoundly simple television show.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

I watched Mister Rogers with the son who sent me this from his earliest childhood, so it’s especially poignant. Maybe our modest little village is also Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. It’s a global village, and God knows we need it to have the kind of light that pierces any darkness, and reveals the good and the beautiful.

G.K. Chesterton said it’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. I see light, no matter where that string of bulbs happens to be.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....