During Winter Solstice, we experience the shortest day, and the longest night, of the year. On this day, usually December 21st or 22nd, the sun travels on its shortest path through the sky. This occurs because the Earth rotates on a tilted axis, and winter solstice marks the time when the Northern hemisphere is tilted furthest away from the sun.
Yet, the Winter Solstice was, and is, celebrated, because, after the longest night of the year, the light begins to return, as each day becomes incrementally longer, and the Earth tilts back to towards the sun. Light is a feature of many mid-winter festivities during the long dark nights at this time of year.
If you are lucky, you can sit around a crackling fire with your family, or perhaps attempt to recreate that cozy experience by playing a fire video on your TV. In Scandinavia, a ‘yule’ log is burned in the hearth at Christmas, based on a pagan Winter Solstice tradition in which families burned logs from a specially selected tree to encourage the Sun to return once again. (Think “Deck the halls with boughs of ivy, falalala lalala/ Troll the ancient yuletide carols, falalala lalala/ See the blazing yule before us…”).
Driving or walking past houses decked out in strands of twinkling lights a crisp December evening is always uplifting. My favourite tradition is to decorate our Christmas tree with strands of lights, and watch the light reflect off of ornaments collected over the years. The tree seems to represent a bright promise that the light always returns. Evergreen represents a promise that new growth, beginnings, and renewal will return, even when everything appears to be bare and dormant.
Light as a symbol of hope is a feature of many worldwide religious festivities that occur during the late fall/winter holiday season, although the specific religions meanings vary, from lighting the menorah during Hanukkah, to lighting Advent candles on Sundays leading up to Christmas, to lighting a kinara for Kwanzaa. Personally, I like to light scented candles during the holidays because the flickering flames create a special atmosphere of warmth and cozy-ness that make home feel like a refuge from the cold, dark night outside.
Winter solstice can be a time of reflection. In the dormancy and darkness winter represents, before the growth and activity of the warmer months, we can turn inwards, integrate the lessons learned over the past year into our sense of self and visualize where we want to go next. When the sun returns, we will be ready for new beginnings and renewal.
This year, despite omicron, chronic illness, and personal challenges, remember that the winter always gives way to spring, and the light always returns. Embrace hope! From our family to yours, Happy Holidays!