Clinton Square: Shelter from the Storm

Last Friday afternoon, I looked up from my computer to see the sky had turned an ominous gray. Logging onto weather.com, I saw the red flashing storm alert: The season's first major snowstorm was here! Call me sick and twisted, but severe weather alerts excite me. Growing up in the Midwest, a tornado siren was like music to my ears. I loved rushing into the basement with my family, where together we played board games by candlelight (nearby thunderstorms often caused power outages). I guess it's not so much the storm I anticipated as the feeling of safety, warmth and light that came with being sheltered against it. So I'll blame Friday's storm for inspiring me to get out my Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving.

While the wind and snow blasted against my windows, I blasted back with music from A Charlie Brown Christmas while putting up lights. I only stopped to watch the Ashely Dupre 20/20 interview - and even that didn't dampen my prematurely merry mood.

It seems the worse the weather gets, and the shorter (and darker) the days become, the more I look forward to the holiday season and its many celebrations. Is there anything better than the moment you step from the dark, freezing night into the brightness of a friend's home for a holiday party? And I'm not alone in my craving for festivity: Throughout history, in just about every culture in the Northern Hemisphere, the biggest celebrations often occur around the darkest, stormiest time of the year: the winter solstice. Even before Christmas was celebrated, there was the ancient Germanic Yule festival - a multiple-day feast observed at the end of December.

So while I'm already feeling the holiday spirit, something is still missing. And I see it every time I drive downtown: The 71-foot Norway Spruce standing in the middle of Clinton Square is without lights. Visible when approaching the city from all directions, the seven-story Christmas tree has been up - unlit - for two weeks now: A reminder that the holiday season is almost here. Passing the Syracuse Christmas tree on my way home from work Friday, I thought about how much I love seeing its multi-colored lights glow on stormy, below-zero nights as my friends and I brave the elements to head into Armory Square. And soon, thousands will gather around the tree - sheltering each other against the winter cold - and welcome in the holiday season at the annual tree-lighting celebration on Nov. 28. The anticipation alone made me smile despite that fact that, because of the storm, my 10-minute commute had taken an hour.

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