Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere: it feels like winter is just getting started. Here in Colorado, the late December days alternate between relatively mild with lots of sun and below zero with violent winds or snow, then back again. It’s as though the earth is kind here, slowly giving us a chance to get used to the idea of the coldest season being real. We’ve just passed autumn: winter still feels new. The ski season is just revving up. We haven’t begun to resent the bitter cold of January or dread the bleak eternity of February, March, and beyond.
What I love about Winter Solstice time is the widespread reminder that even though it feels like it’s just getting started, the reality is that after today, winter is on its way out. Frosty Elvis is leaving the building.
It doesn’t seem possible, but that’s the truth. No wonder people from time immemorial have celebrated the return of the sun, with its light and warmth and life they bring to every being here on earth.
Every winter holiday that I know of has light as a central motif: the Hanukkah candles; the Christ Child as the light of the world; the Kwanzaa festival of lights; the idea of celebrating a New Year now (instead of in spring when on the surface, it would make a heck of a lot more sense to celebrate new life with the return of new growing shoots), and even secular Santa with his reindeer’s glowing nose lighting the way to bring abundance to the young and innocent.
We put human faces on it, but these holidays are all really about this vast, fundamental celestial dance that ultimately determines life and death for all of us fragile beings on earth.
Imagine living in a subsistence culture, or any human culture during much earlier times. If it’s cold too long, all of the plants die. The animals then starve too, and/or freeze, and there is nothing for you to eat. The firewood is buried beneath meters of frozen snow, so now there’s no real way to keep warm unless you prepared by making stacks during warmer times – but even so, for how long? And what if your fire goes out? Worse, what if the warm times never come back? The idea may sound childish, but that was the reality during the Ice Age… over the course of generations, it never did! No wonder we humans need the hope that yes, even though it sure doesn’t feel like it at the time because each one goes for so long, the seasons flow in a cycle, not an eternal line, and Spring will indeed come again.
Food, gifts, and gathering together are also part of this – another reminder that life isn’t always going to be spare. Fear begets hoarding and separation, shrinking away; whereas generosity begets some abundance for all, at least in the heart.
Some of my friends in Morris troupes got up today before dawn to dance up the sun. I will call contradances this evening as part of the Solabration festival in Denver, which also features group singing, potluck feasting, storytelling, a Mummer’s Play, Xtreme juggling and more low-tech offerings both silly and sublime. Trees have been brought into our homes and honored with gifts of ornaments and yes, lights. They are evergreens, another symbol of eternal life. In a sea of bare branches, they remain supple and ever green. Gifts await beneath their boughs. People bring ridiculous numbers of cookies to work. We put on fat that can tide us over if the winter lasts too long.
Light, warmth, sharing, possibility, hope. We can make it through another dark time.
Tonight is the longest night of the year. In this darkest time, celebrating the Solstice offers a reminder of the physical reality that really, things have turned and it’s getting easier now. It’s not just wishful thinking: it’s Science! 🙂 The Sun bought her ticket and packed her bags, and has just begun her long journey back to us. Already tomorrow the world will begin to lighten up.
It might not feel like that for months, but just hold on. Watch the skies. Go outside first thing in the morning and last thing at night before you go to bed, and notice how things are changing. Pay attention. The gratitude will come.
Midwinter is a cusp time: both dark, resting, & quietly contemplative and also a tender new beginning. The energy of all earth begins to quicken now.
Along with zooming around taking care of the details of the impending Xmas etc. extravaganza, you may wish to take the opportunity to align your life with these large natural energies. The ancient Taoists would certainly applaud this notion. Unless you’re a salmon or we’re talking political metaphor, isn’t it wiser to ride strong river currents in the direction they’re going instead of fighting to go upstream?
Here’s one way to work with the energies of the winter solstice. Sit quietly, preferably outside. Feel the earth breathing. This day offers a pause: the cusp of earth’s autumnal in-breath (pulling in to let go and rest) and her spring outbreath (birthing new life). Take some time to consider your life. Where have you been this past year or more? What structures, qualities, etc. have served you that you find precious and want to keep and grow further, and what would you like to let gently and naturally fall away like dead leaves? Finally, what new sources of light would you like to bring into your life at this newly waxing time of unlimited potential?