Snow fell gently that Christmas Eve, covering streets and sidewalks in white. People spilled out of church, quiet after the candlelight service, tightening scarves and pulling on gloves. Noticing the snow, they gently took elbows or held hands in case someone slipped.
Families stepped carefully down the stairs and looked for their cars; neighborhood parishioners followed the sidewalks home, their paths lit only by streetlights and the soft glow of stained glass windows. Very few people talked, as the snow and warmth from the service left a calm hush over the evening.
In front of us, a father bent over to pick up his daughter, who was maybe three or four. She wore a pink coat and white hat, but her tights and black Mary Janes were no match for the inch or two of snow so he scooped her up and she snuggled into his coat. We followed them around the corner, where they abruptly stopped. So did we.
In the dark winter night, stretching down the street as far as we could see, luminaria lined the sidewalks — seemingly hundreds of paper bags with candles inside, spaced every couple of feet, glowed soft against the snow. It was a beautiful site orchestrated perfectly by neighbors or maybe just one person who chose to light the way for strangers on their way home from church.
“Daddy, it’s so pretty,” the little girl said, light reflecting in her eyes.
“Do you know why those lights are there?” her dad asked, tightening her hat.
“Why?” she whispered.
“They put out the lights so Santa knows where to land his sleigh,” he said, hugging her closer. “He sets it down right on the road, then brings the presents to all the houses.”
“It means he’s almost here, so let’s hurry home so we can get ready.”
They hurried to the car, and we walked past them to ours. The street glowed yellow in the white night. It was quiet. We followed the light.