Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Lighting the dark places: An essay about the meaning of Winter Solstice

Holly hangs in the door way, the wreath hangs on the door; the tree is lit and decked out in our finest tree ornaments. Candles are lit and the smell of sugar cookies hangs in the air. Yes all the signs of Yule are here, but what does it all mean?

The winter solstice has been marked in some way by every Indo-European culture. To the Romans it was Saturnalia and later Sol Invictus, to the Teutonic folk it was Yule. To the Irish it was…ah, but that is the question. It would seem we have just enough evidence to know that the winter solstice was an important day to the pre-Christian people of Ireland, but we have no idea what they did to celebrate it or what exactly it meant to them. This poses a few problems when, like myself, one’s hearth culture is Irish. So I find myself falling back on the traditions I know, most of which come from Yule traditions. Things like the Yule tree, evergreens, and holly to kiss under; to name just a few of the trappings of this high day. What these things all tie back to in some way is honoring the rebirth of the sun, and hope for our future. The winter solstice is important for on the day of greatest darkness, when there seems that the light is about to fade, we find our hope renewed knowing that the sun will again return, that the winter will end and the spring will again come and the wheel of the seasons ever turns on. Yule is a time of giving to others. It’s about sharing good will and good food. It’s about rejoicing in hope, about honoring the sun; it’s about light, even more so it’s about BEING the light. It’s about being the weak little candle flame pushing back the seemingly overwhelming darkness in another’s life. It is about the smell of evergreens, in the home, it is about baking cookies for your friends, it is about the kiss of peace, hope and love under the sprig of mistletoe.

The dawn is cold and grey; I am bundled against the penetrating cold of the morning, my hot coco steaming warm in my hands. I wait in the darkness, eyes scanning the ever lightening horizon, when suddenly; shooting me in the face is the first beams of the sun on the solstice morning. It’s not the cold that shoots through me, but exhilaration. Like that first sliver of light, the winter solstice has come to represent that moment of inspiration that can suddenly shoot through a person’s inner darkness, giving them an inner light. This is a good time of year to stop and think about what slivers of inspiration a person would like to have in the coming months. It’s the time of year to look into our selves and find our inner darkness, the places where we are ignorant, stumbling, or lost. Then upon finding it, we have the opportunity, the imperative, to bring in the light of inspiration, to become “enlightened”.

Winter solstice is a crazy time of year. Full of sparkling and blinking lights, sales, shopping, office and school holiday parties, commitments to family, and decorations. We get pulled in so many directions at once it’s easy to lose sight of what this high day is about. So take a time out each day of the “season” just to remind ourselves to honor the light of the sun, the light within, and to shine it on the dark places of our spirit.

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