Push Back the Darkness

It’s been a heavy few days here in Colorado. On Friday the 13th , eighteen-year-old Karl Pierson entered Arapahoe High School in suburban Denver, openly carrying a shotgun, looking for a specific teacher. He shot senior Claire Davis who succumbed to her grave injuries Saturday afternoon. Pierson shot himself when he learned school resource officers were closing in. More causalities in another senseless violent attack in a place that should be safe. It seems like we are experiencing a nation-wide trend of mass violence.

It’s easy to become afraid or cynical.  To harden our hearts and circle the wagons, so to speak. But you can’t hide from evil. That’s right, mass killings by suicidal killers can only be described as evil.

I’ve faced evil, face-to-face, in hand-to-hand combat. Not a suicidal killer but evil just the same. I came out on the other side a much different person than when I went in. It almost did me in, literally.

What I learned from my experience is that the best way to overcome evil, is with good. Revenge and fear only lead to victory for the darkness.

Take for instance the situation in Pennsylvania, in 2006 when a gunman stormed an Amish school room and killed four school-girls and wounded seven more before killing himself. The families of the girls went to the killer’s mother’s house to comfort her. They even attended his funeral. Through their super-human act of forgiveness a whole community was able to move forward.

Goodness doesn’t have to be on such a monumental scale. Every day people are pushing back the darkness. The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary prompted a movement “26 Acts of Kindness”, one for each victim. Simple acts, like taping money to the soda machine with a note of encouragement. Maybe you’ve been the recipient of someone paying for your coffee in the drive-thru.  I’ve heard about an anonymous person who is paying off peoples’ Christmas layaway bills. I know of a mom who carts her kids to various nursing homes to visit and deliver handmade cards at this time of the year. A friend of ours had his lunch paid for by some other diners in a restaurant. This simple kindness almost brought this burly man to tears. I’ve seen kids rally around a new classmate, making sure he didn’t eat lunch alone and had someone to play with at recess. All wonderful examples of pushing back the darkness.

An underlying theme in most of my writing is being confronted with evil and how do we respond. My characters don’t always take the high road or have a successful response, just like in real life. But when we make a conscious choice to do good we never know how far the ripples of that act will reach. Maybe all the way to someone plagued by thoughts of doing harm, maybe it will be an opening for good rather than evil.

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Krampus and other Christmas Terrors

Christmas is a time of light, good tidings, and peace on Earth…mostly. Just like everything else there has to be a balance of light and dark and Christmas is no exception. These strange and scary Christmas traditions may make more than sugar plums dance in your head.

That cute, funny, creepy, unsettling little spy, Elf on the Shelf is a newer tradition. He or she shows up right around Thanksgiving to keep an eye on the children and report behavior back to old Saint Nick. He moves around the house while you’re sleeping for different vantage points from which to narc. He’s watching you. All the time. In your house. There is just something unsettling about a doll that moves around, especially if neither parent can remember doing it.

 

Elf on the Shelf wasn’t the first little Christmas creeper, however. Greece has had the Kallikantzaroi, or Christmas goblins way before Santa even had elves. These half-animal-half-human hairy creatures live underground and spend their days sawing away at the World Tree. This tree holds up the whole earth and when it collapses so will the world. Christmas is the only time these monsters can come up on the surface and the draw of wreaking havoc on humans makes them forget about the tree even though they were almost all the way through the trunk. For 12 days these scary little devils try to sneak into homes to spoil food, tip things over, break things, and pee in flower beds. To keep them out Greek families will sometimes hang the lower jaw of a pig behind the front door or inside the Chimney. Finally on the day of Epiphany (January 6) the Kalikantrzaroi must return to their underground home only to find the World Tree has healed itself and they must now start over. Hard to tell what is worse, little black devils running amok in your house or a pig’s jaw hanging around.

 

Aside from the Christ-child only Santa Claus is a widely accepted symbol of all that is goodness and light about the holiday season. But he too has dark counter points.

In Belgium and the Netherlands Saint Nicholas dressed in red bishop-like robes travels from his homeland of Spain by steamship to reward well behaved children. He carries a huge book in which he records children’s behavior. He comes with his helper, Black Pete, sometimes in the plural. Black Pete performs like a jester and takes care of Saint Nicholas’ horse. Good children get a gift from Saint Nicholas’ huge bag dropped down their chimney (some say bad children are in the bag too, what’s with bad children in bags?). According to a traditional holiday song, naughty children get a spanking with Black Pete’s bundle of twigs, and no presents. There is some controversy around Black Pete being a racist symbol but most Dutch parents tell their kids his skin is black from chimney soot. Uh-huh. Let’s not forget he is a total stranger and he gets to spank your naughty kid. Terrifying.

Black Pete and St. Nick circa 1948

Black Pete and St. Nick circa 1948

 

In other parts of Europe Saint Nicholas gets a little more hard core and horrifying. Forget elves, forget joking spankers, even goblins don’t compare. Here Saint Nick shows up with Krampus. He’s a hairy, horned, long-tongue wagging demon looking creature who takes his job seriously. He not only whips naughty kids with birch branches but likes to stuff particularly bad kids into his basket that he carries on his back. Guess where they are going? To hell, of course! Those are not the only punishments in his tool bag. He also has been known to pull ears, rip out pigtails, and drown children in ink. Way worse than coal, right?

Think you’ve outgrown this silly story used by adults to control you, well think again. In Germany they celebrate  Krampusnacht or Night of Krampus. Grown men dress up like the demonic character and descend on entire towns with torches, chains, and large clanging bells. Parents with pre-teen and teen-aged children will sometimes let the Krampuses into the house for a drink and permission to torment the children. Invited. By your own parents. Into your house. Relieved you don’t live in Germany? He’s making inroads into North America with appearances on television and growing Krampus parties. Coal is looking pretty good right about now for some of you.

Disturbing Image of Krampus in Action

Disturbing Image of Krampus in Action

 

I really hope you have all been good this year. Wishes to everyone for a Merry Christmas. Eat lots of treats, read lots of books, be kind, be generous, think about the baby Jesus, and enjoy your family. Keep a watchful eye on that Elf. For some of you, you know who you are, I trust Krampus doesn’t find you. But if he does can you send me some pictures? Thanks!