Christmas Eve

The candlelight service is over, the darkened church is locked and we set out into the cold, starry darkness of a Texas Christmas Eve.

The long ride home holds its own surprises as the headlights shine on the eyes of foraging late-night creatures.

The spectral forms of startled deer stand statue-still at the edge of darkness. Cattle, sheep, goats and the occasional emu settle in clumps, seeking warmth from each other, thereby creating their own manger scenes.

Now and then festive lights dare the darkness: electric icicles along a “bob-wire” fence, strings of red pepper lights adorning the high gate to a rancher’s small home, houses outlined in multicolored greeting.

Halfway home, a golden glow grows behind the limestone ridge stretching across our way. The darkness quickly retreats, replaced by this widening light. Topping the ridge, we see the old county courthouse and its square dressed up in electric finery for the season.

What lies between us and that Victorian gem makes the night as bright as day. High-pressure sodium security lights flood the large Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison complex housing thousands of men and women. Six large prison units settle down for a long winter’s nap under lights that never go out.

Some of the women inmates have decked the outermost fences around one unit with electric icicles and red pepper lights. Round bales of hay from prison fields are stacked snowman-style at the gate. The decorations imitate the festive trimmings of ranch and town. Shepherding guards watch and wait in their stark towers, but not for angels. They hope this will be a flood-lit uneventful night.

Hopeless, forbidding sight? Always. Yet even here another light is shining to put the darkness to flight.

In the window of a women’s prison dormitory a small tree stands, bravely bearing its colored lights and Noel star. Hope remembers. Here, behind brick walls and high chain link fences topped with razor wire, it is Christmas Eve.

The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.


Harriett O. Wacker is stated supply, First church, Hamilton, Texas.