The season of celebration is upon us once again. We all know the drill – so much to do, so many obligations, so much frenzy.
Perhaps this year we can make room for the more basic human story behind the holiday season.
In the northern hemisphere, December 21 (or thereabouts) is the time of the winter solstice. The apex of the earth’s annual orbit around the sun which brings the longest night of the year and the shortest daylight hours.
Tribal people throughout history have marked this event, with bonfires and ceremonial candlelight, special feasts and stories. They have gathered together to celebrate light and warmth with family, friends and food.
Solstice celebrations are always about light and warmth and the cheer of firelight. On the darkest nights, humans call upon the sun to return, to bring its warmth back to the earth. As humans we have done this for so long it is in our very DNA.
The early Christian church set the date of Jesus’ birth in late December to dovetail with the Roman and pagan solstice celebrations. Light to the world. Ancient Jewish tradition marked the solstice as a celebration of fire and light long before the Maccabees of Hanukkah fame added new meaning to the event. Indigenous people from Inuvik to Lappland, from the Greeks to the Vikings have gathered together to mark the time of the turning of the earth, and to celebrate our longing for the light.
Every year on the Winter Solstice when my children were young, we would light candles and before we enjoyed a celebratory meal, we would take food out to feed the wild creatures around our country home. We shared seed and peanut butter balls for the birds, apples for the deer, coyotes and foxes, nuts for the squirrels and carrots for the wild rabbits.
For the days following we would see animal tracks in the snow and woods around our food gifts. A lovely simple ritual in a busy Christmastime.
Even now, on the Solstice, I like to put on snow clothes and wade out to our back garden to sit in the quiet and offer thanks for the year that has been and the new year ahead, the return of the sun to the earth that is coming. To breathe the cold clear air and set my intention for the year ahead.
We love the holidays at our house, and enjoy many multi-cultural traditions as we gather with family and friends. Perhaps the most poignant of all our holiday customs are the times involving light – bright warm fires in the wood stove, Christmas eve candlelight service, candles on the table for our solstice feast, twinkling lights on our Christmas trees. The hustle bustle is not the important part of our December – being together and having tender quiet times are the best part.
Let the season be whatever it is to you and perhaps this year it can be a bit more – a kind of spiritual alchemy – focussing on moments of peace and togetherness – turning darkness into light.