Robert Azzi: America: We need all the light we can get

For the Monitor
Published: 12/20/2020 6:10:53 AM

As Christian or Muslim I’ve always loved the Christmas tradition – especially strong in New England – of placing a single candle in each window of a house.

Growing up in Manchester, the candles in our windows were made by Daddy, who recycled wooden textile spools that came from the mills along the Merrimack River where many immigrants got their first jobs in America.

Daddy put sockets in them and carefully wired them so they could sit solidly on our window sills. They were turned on at sunset – off at bedtime – except on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve when Mummy insisted they stay on all night.

They exist still, those candles, unused because of their ancient and frayed wiring – a memory of a time where all appeared to be welcome.

“America went off the track somewhere – back around the time of the Civil War, or pretty soon afterwards,” Thomas Wolfe wrote in You Can’t Go Home Again. “Instead of going ahead and developing along the line in which the country started out, it got shunted off in another direction. . . . Suddenly we realize that America has turned into something ugly.”

Nowhere, since that time, has it gone more off track – more ugly – than during the presidency of Donald Trump, where the American people have been confronted and daily assaulted by a president who believes that he knows that which he really does not know, who believes he can manipulate that over which he has no power – who values only himself and is willing to destroy everything around him in order to survive.

Even if that means destroying the Promise of America, even if it means extinguishing the candles in our windows.

His ugly, monstrous, malevolent presence has tortured this nation in ways considered unimaginable just a half-a-decade ago and his departure is long overdue if we are to survive as a democracy.

He will soon be gone; exposed, rejected, impotent, fading into irrelevance – but not without having extracted an enormous price from the American people – a price paid in ugliness, corruption, blood, and treasure.

He will soon be gone, his hands stained with the blood of tens of thousands of dead Americans whom he failed to protect.

He will soon be gone, having failed to confront Vladimir Putin over Russia’s ongoing assaults on American troops, on American institutions, on anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny – for the recently identified major computer intrusion by Russian hackers into American government and corporate networks.

He will soon be gone having diminished American global authority and jeopardized our interests and security, having made America a laughingstock among nations – except in the gilt-lined chambers of autocrats, dictators, and rulers of corrupt shaikhdoms where he himself – not America – is welcome.

“There are some upon this earth of yours who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name; who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived,” Charles Dickens warned us in A Christmas Carol. “Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.”

He will soon be gone having tried to extinguish the candles in our windows.

America today – for all its conflicts and tensions, for all that has been promised and not yet achieved – is a testament to the diversity of the peoples, cultures, languages, and histories – indigenous and imported – who strive not just to achieve the American Dream but to assist their neighbors as well.

America will survive because more people recognized, on Nov. 3, the nature of the threat facing America – and acted upon their recognition.

Thanksgiving and Hanukkah have passed; the winter solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and the New Year approach, and we are being called upon to be mindful – as we traverse a newly bloodied and scarred landscape – to the welfare of our neighbors and loved ones – to heed the call of the candles.

The winter solstice occurs on Monday, December 21, 2020 at 05:02. As our daylight hours begin to lengthen let us acknowledge it as a time of renewal, to hope, heal and love, to realign our interests and honor the light.

It’s reported that the tradition of placing a single candle in a window dates back to Colonial times when a candle was often lighted when a family member was away. Homes were often miles apart and a candle – even in the house of a stranger – was a sign of “welcome.”

In Ireland lighting window candles is a popular Christmas tradition, perhaps acting as signals to Catholic priests that they were welcome to perform Christmas Mass, perhaps referencing the first Christmas when Mary and Joseph couldn’t find shelter.

On Dec. 21, just hours after the passing of the solstice, Jupiter and Saturn will appear to come together in planetary conjunction forming what is often referred to as the “Christmas Star.”

Its appearance will be welcome – and needed.

I’m going off to the hardware store – it’s time to rewire Daddy’s inspired Christmas candles.

We need all the light we can get.

(Robert Azzi, a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter, can be reached at His columns are archived at


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