Winter Solstice: All Hail the Return of the Light!
How quickly time flies! It seems like just a few weeks ago we were celebrating the Summer Solstice (the day that marks the first day of summer) and the longest day of the year. Since then, the hours of daylight have steadily grown shorter with the passage of the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice (the longest night of the year) is now upon us. But even though the Sun rises later and sets earlier than it did back at the Summer Solstice, the world is now illuminated by a different type of light.
I love the beauty and magic of winter. In Southern California where I’ve spent a good part of the past 35 years, the weather vacillates from hot and dry one day to cold and rainy the next. Though it is often in the 90s on the Winter Solstice, I still recall fondly the snowy winters I spent in my native New York, as well as the glorious winters of Germany, Scotland and Wales—countries in which I have had the good fortune to live for extended periods. These places all have one thing in common, no matter the climate: At this time of year, they become magical fantasylands glowing with the beauty of multicolored holiday lights.
These displays of light, aside from lifting my spirits and turning each dark night into a faerie land for the awestruck child I still am at heart, are a very appropriate way of honoring our ancestors and the significance the Winter Solstice held for them.
For these people who had no real comprehension of the cycles of Nature, the steadily shortening days must have been a frightening time. Food became scarce as many animals migrated or hibernated, while those animals which remained were often thin due to their own lack of readily available food. Our ancestors had to rely on what they had gathered during the harvest times. This is how their tribes survived through these desolate months. Also, the Sun seemed to be disappearing from its path across the skies as less and less of it appeared above the horizon, making their world a colder and darker place.
Our ancestors also noticed that the hours of daylight were shortest around Dec 21, but a bit more of the Sun started to rise above the horizon in the ensuing days. They came to realize that the Sun was not going to abandon them to a world of perpetual darkness. The night of the Winter Solstice came to be a fire festival. Bonfires were lit, huge yule logs were burned over a period of several nights, and singing, drinking and celebrating the return of the light became the order of the day.
As I go about my errands or my evening stroll during this time of year, I feel an affinity with those who came before me and all they endured. I cannot help but give thanks to them, not only for their strength and endurance in surviving in an inhospitable world without the modern luxuries which we enjoy, but also for the beauty of the lights I see everywhere, imitating the fires they lit on all of those Winter Solstice nights. These lights still transform our world into a place of splendor and magic.
Whatever your religion, path, philosophy or discipline, I invite you to join me this December 21 in bringing to mind with reverence and gratitude all of those souls who have gone before us and graced us with this magnificent gift.
All hail the return of the light!
Wishing you brightest blessings,