Winter Solstice

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A few days ago, I arose at 4:30 in the morning. My head was spinning with holiday to-dos, and I just couldn’t sleep. At 6:45, I went up to my daughter’s room to wake her for school. But it was so incredibly dark in the hallway that I had to check the clock again to make sure I had the correct time.

As we approach the winter solstice here in the Northern Hemisphere, the darkness seems to envelop us. Night comes swiftly and lingers into our morning awakenings. We are approaching the day of shortest daylight and longest night.

Early cultures marked this winter solstice with festivals of light, such as the Scandinavian Jul, from which we derive the Christmas word “Yule.” It is no coincidence that Hanukkah and Christmas, two festivals of light, are celebrated around the time of the solstice.

We are a people afraid of darkness. At the holidays, this darkness can take the form not only of physical night, but of sadness, loneliness, and depression. Loss of loved ones feels more keen at this cold, dark time of the year. The holidays themselves, of course, can contribute to feelings of stress and anxiety. Hence my 4:30 am awakenings.

But for me, the winter solstice is a time for rejoicing. Not only is the great feast of Christmas around the corner, but the days will begin to lengthen again. In the midst of January’s sometimes bitter cold is the reality that the brilliant sun shines more often and lasts longer into our days. The New Year will give us new resolve and hope for a better life.

The whole season of Advent is one of waiting in darkness for the coming of the light of Christ. HuffPost writer Caroline Oakes sees the meaning of Advent enriched by the ancient pagan traditions surrounding the solstice. In them, she recognizes the Celtic culture for “its keen awareness of humanity’s deep, inner connections with the rhythms of the natural world.” (HuffPost, December 21, 2012)

So we wait in the darkness. In Oakes’ words, “This is Advent — when, as sleepers, we awaken to our own light of love, deep within us, waiting to be reborn again in the dark stables of our own souls.”

 

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Making the Holidays Merry and Bright

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With an entire month focused on Christmas, it’s easy to get caught up in the hoopla of the season. As we rush from one activity to another, we don’t often pause to actually enjoy it. Here are some of my suggestions on making the holiday better for all.

  1. Slow down. I realize there is a lot to get done before December 25. A sign in a store yesterday reminded me that there were only nine shopping days left! But it’s important to drive safely and give pedestrians and other drivers a break. And let’s face it. An accident would surely put a damper on the holiday spirit.
  2. If it should snow, please shovel your sidewalk. I realize we have been having a California-style December in the Midwest. But no doubt, as soon as we get complacent, the snow will arrive. Remember that commuters, dog walkers, and just anyone who enjoys taking a walk in the great outdoors will be trying to navigate your sidewalk.  They should not need snowshoes to do so!
  3. Make an effort to learn about other faith and cultural traditions. December is filled with festivals of light: Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice. Learning about how other people celebrate to banish the darkness will be intriguing as well as a great way to learn respect and tolerance for each other’s differences.
  4. Give freely of not only your money, but your good will. Smile at the bell ringer as you deposit that dollar in the Salvation Army can. Be kind and patient with retail clerks of all kinds, who are burdened with all the extra merchandise and the crush of customers shopping for Christmas gifts and the stuff of holiday feasts. Take the time to thank those who have made your life a little happier or easier this year.
  5. If you are a spiritual person, pray. Pray for peace, unity, understanding, healing, and joy. This world could use a little more of all of the above.

The Christmas season should not go by in a blur, but rather be savored as the joyful, warm, and blessed one that it is meant to be. So this season, make some hot chocolate, watch a holiday movie with the kids, plan an outing to see Christmas lights or the giant tree in your favorite department store. Wear an ugly sweater and sing carols, no matter how bad your singing voice may be.

May your days be merry and bright!