My Annual Dark Night Drive to Cincinnati

My Annual Dark Night Drive to Cincinnati

Every year I drive from Minnesota to Cincinnati to be with my brother and his family for Christmas. My schedule always seems to get complicated no matter how hard I try to get the complications out of it, so I usually wind up driving eleven hours overnight on Christmas Eve to get there for some part of Christmas day.

Like most trips we make too often, I’ve developed familiar landmarks to measure my progress—St. Paul to Eau Claire to Tomah to Madison in Wisconsin, and then from Rockford and Champaign, Ill., to Indianapolis and Batesville, Ind., before I finally hit Cincinnati. Dawn usually shows up somewhere in central Illinois, preceeded by an overnight culture of trucks and truckers and a string of gas stations that sell bad coffee and too much junk food all along the way.

As strange as it sounds, I’ve come to see my annual trip as my way of getting real about all places in the dark that mark out our Advent trek into hope. After all, don’t we all keep our Advent eyes peeled for life in the darkness, for a dawn that reveals a miraculous birth in our night and that of the world?

Most of these dawns and births happen in unexpected and remarkably unromantic places like the desolate, cold central Illinois places in our own hearts that need to be warmed by the new life that comes at dawn.

And wouldn’t you agree these births in our nights—yours and mine—come with a quality of life we can only call eternal?




About the Author

Joe McHugh is a spiritual director, retreat leader, teacher, and writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the National Catholic Reporter. His book, "Startled by God: Wisdom from Unexpected Places" is available at He can be contacted at
  • David Kay

    All dark nights are not lonely, as Joe points out. In his book “Startled by God” Wisdom from Unexpected Places, he mentions that in Minnesota he has stepped across the Mississippi river.
    A mighty feat of engineering and the hard work of hundreds of men built the Sunshine Bridge which spans the Mississippi river between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. It connects the small town of d’Iberville to the sugar cane fields. . A political feat providing a job when one was needed.
    Lots of rain falls there. Many nights there are dark and rainy. Christians, Catholic, earthy men and women live there. Most of their ancestors are said to have come downstream to get there.
    It is cold here, in West Tennessee today. It’s easy to dream of swamp country.