by Julian Keys
“…the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely and think of [other] people…as if they really were fellow-travellers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”
—Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol.
A Many-Colored Lantern was my first foray into winter holiday romances, and I went a bit overboard in stuffing it like a stocking with the trappings, from wreaths to chestnuts to colored lights. What, after all, would such a story be without lots of gifts for the reader to open? I even made the story multicultural and interfaith to cover all the season’s spiritual bases.
A funny thing happened, however, on my way to this house of many holidays. The interfaith family inside became the story’s guiding light. You see, to me, the most important aspect of this time of year is sharing. Thus, as I began to explore different seasonal traditions my goal changed from giving the story more color to illuminating that shared center, that holiday spirit, if you like, which doesn’t focus on how presents are wrapped, but on the wish we all have to give of ourselves.
I ended up with a fable, of sorts, a romance between an odd woman and a desperate man; both looking for love, yet fearing themselves unworthy to give or receive it. It’s a story about those lonely times we all go though—sometimes short, sometimes long—when we feel like outsiders. This is most keenly experienced during the holidays, when everyone is gathering together; it’s made even worse if our relatives, country or culture has told us that we must be something that we’re not if we want to belong. This is the sort of loneliness Ethan, our erstwhile protagonist feels through most of the story. Even when the family invites him in, he’s sure its only because they think he’s a good, heroic person. He believes he’s anything but, and that there is no place for him in this warm, celebratory world.
As in this story, however, there are people who refuse to focus on our differences. They don’t care if our appearance or faith or background isn’t the same as theirs; their hearts are open, and when they look on us, they see a kindred spirit, someone to be given a place by the fire. Even someone like Ethan, who needs to find his way back to himself before he can find his way back to the holidays and to love. There is a lantern out there to guide us all home.
Which is why we should never lose hope of finding a people, a neighborhood, a family, and someone to love. And once we arrive at our true home, we should make sure a light stays lit to guide others there. That is what this time of year is all about, and what A Many-Colored Lantern came to be about.
Have faith in each other, fellow travelers. We’ve more in common then you think.