With summer in the rearview mirror, Christmas in the U.S. officially begins.

I pretend to be disgusted with this premature nod to my favorite holiday. I may even roll my eyes and heave out a very audible sigh as I push past the seasonal aisle at Target (where green and red replaced sequins study pillows overnight). But when the coast is clear, I’m the first to play Scrabble with the monogrammed stockings and arrange them into words like “HEH” and “DURP.” I may even stash some Snowmen Peeps into the bottom of my cart. 

You’ve felt it. That adrenaline rush you get when you know you’ve found the one.

Apart from these minor infractions, I typically abstain from this early pull into Yuletide (delaying instead until the Hallmark Channel’s “75 days of Christmas” green light). Waiting is a true exercise in self-control because I love all things Christmas—especially the giving.

You’ve felt it. That adrenaline rush you get when you know you’ve found the one: the gift that, when you play the movie in your head, yields a blissful “I LOVE IT!” or “How did you know?” I suspect that this (and the fear of the opposite) is what’s turned Black Friday into a contact sport.

Living in deficit is certainly not new to humankind. But the collective void experienced in 2020 is, for many, unprecedented and profound. With so many holes, it feels like December 25th can’t come soon enough. Just maybe, for a few brief moments, the emptiness won’t feel quite so empty.

But something’s killing my own anticipatory joy of gift-giving this year. It’s not the startling news of the past few weeks, the impending election, or the hope that stocking stuffer options will also include a vaccine. It’s the gift that’s been collecting dust on my dresser for almost a year now: the “perfect one” I’ve not yet given; the one that tarnishes my 532 – 0 record. (This is not counting my husband’s unopened pasta maker, herb garden, SodaStream and fly rod. He gets until our 50th anniversary or they’re all going back.) 

It’s the coconut.

Writer Chelle A. Wilson describes the moment “When you know deep down in your know.”

The minute I laid eyes on it, I knew. I was wrapping up a brief trip overseas and headed to a nearby village for a custom gift: something authentic for a friend that would reflect her own authenticity. This coconut shell-turned-candle holder was it. I ignored my shopping companions’ quizzical looks when I squealed with delight and envisioned the moment it would be wholeheartedly received. With deep satisfaction I snatched it up, tucked it into my suitcase, and headed for the airport.

A few flights later I salvaged it from my suitcase. The euphoria was gone, and I began to seriously second-guess my choice:

Heh. It’s a coconut. A coconut is . . . durpy.   

So I stalled. As all my subsequent travel was COVID-cancelled, it seemed right to hold back on gifting it. I could have mailed it but it was better, I reasoned, to just wait for that “in-person” moment (plus coconuts are fragile). Nine months in, I’m realizing that there are deeper forces at work here. The truth is, I just can’t let it go. 

Somehow soul-searching a coconut-turned-candleholder purchase seems reasonable in this post-apocalyptic world. As I cradle this belated gift in my hands, trace my fingers over its sanded exterior and artist-imposed cracks, I now think I understand:

This gift is the antithesis of perfection. Riddled with fault lines and holes it is defined instead by imperfection. I saw none of that as it sat in the artisan shop. I saw real, exquisite, authentic. The perfect gift. I saw my friend.

Now when I run the reels of how this gift will be received, there is silence instead of exclamation. It is a new scene altogether—one entirely reimagined. I see my friend carefully set the tea light aflame. She steps back slowly, and studies the glow pouring out from inside. Her eyes follow the flame as it radiates the shell with heat and light. It seeps through the cracks and crevices painting authentic and unorthodox shadows on her wall. She smiles as they perform their asymmetrical dance.

And maybe she thinks of the One True Light who dwells in her, emanating through every fissure and flaw.

No person or substance or honor could ever fill this fractured and sacred space. 

What else spills out into emptiness without becoming empty?

Only Light.

Imperfection made perfect. Holy, made whole.


The leaves are dropping from my backyard maple in solitary succession. I suspect there are a handful of 80-degree afternoons left. Still, this new chill in the morning air whispers that their days are numbered—the daylight hours, too, as this calendar wanes. I know there will be dark days ahead.

The coconut shell luminary keeps me company while I write. Maybe it’s not just the fear of giving a less-than-perfect gift that keeps it here. Maybe I’m still clinging to what embodies the beauty I long for: a life full of fractures and light. 

Here at the edge of the Rockies we’ve had our first dusting of snow. Despite my traditional inhibitions, it really is beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:4-5 (NIV)

Header Image Credit: Pezibear from Pixabay

Nichole Woo
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