Some Thoughts on Winter Solstice

Cross-posted from Cherry Blossoms {The Blog}.

Winter solstice is a big deal in the far north. By this time of year, the days are very short and life can be very dark. We celebrate solstice because it marks the fulcrum; from now on the days which had been getting shorter and shorter will finally start to lengthen, broaden, and bring back the light. Solstice (both summer and winter) is the impartial judge who gives both sides their say. The light and the dark are equal partners in the natural world and in our own lives, serving different purposes to provide balance.

Winter solstice marks the closure of a year and the end of the days’ progression to darkness.

I love that winter solstice is right before Christmas. It deepens my worship to celebrate the birth of Christ immediately following the darkest part of the year. Often when I find myself lost in the dark places I both turn inward to discover my true self, and outward to call out for God. And there He is, always, so near to me even in the depths. The day after winter solstice is not suddenly longer, the improvements which happen are incremental, but it comes with the hope of brighter days to come. Christmas follows, still in the dark, but bringing light and hope for the future.

Midafternoon sunset in the far north.

We have to go through the darkest parts before the beauty; we feel the pain before we understand the joy. Darkness serves the purpose of opposition.

However, darkness is not simply the antithesis of light and goodness. I’ve learned best how to minister to others from the pain and darkness I have experienced within myself. When I see my loved ones going through their own dark places I see resilience, determination, grace, and courage. It is in the dark places where we perform the hard labor that refines us and makes us stronger. It is there that we do the real work of life. In fact, I find most of my own inspiration in shadowy places.

Nature can teach us a lot about darkness. It demands minimalism.

It is within the cocoon that the caterpillar experiences a metamorphosis. Within the cocoon, it is cramped and dark, and for the short lifespan of a caterpillar, the two weeks of change within the dark place must seem an eternity. However, without the distractions of the world outside, the caterpillar is able to focus and do a remarkable thing. Darkness encourages us to slow down, reevaluate our choices, and focus on our priorities.

I’ve said this before but it bears repeating: if I may borrow from Robert Frost, the woods are lovely, dark, and deep. He doesn’t say “the woods are lovely despite being dark and deep” nor does he say “the woods are lovely except the parts that are dark at deep.” Darkness and depth are inextricably linked to the loveliness of the woods. So too is it in us.

My winter solstice celebrations have varied over the years.

In the far north, we liked to celebrate with parties surrounded by friends and food and warm fires. We rallied together to drive the cold winter away. We celebrated the coming light, and it was a big deal.

I don’t know whether to credit the passage of time or my southern migration but winter solstice is now a more introverted affair. Certainly, I have changed since I left the far north but I also feel less of a solstice camaraderie in a place where the days are more consistent.  A tally of my years here reveal a pattern of candles, tea, knitting or crocheting, baths, and anything that would now be considered hygge. I’ve developed a respect for the dark and its power and peace, and I keep my acknowledgment of this celestial milestone mostly to myself. In fact, while I spend the night with my family I observe solstice in the quiet of my soul.

Sometimes the longest night is not December 21st and sometimes it lasts much longer than one night. The lessons of solstice can help us through those dark times. Solstice reminds us of the constancy of change. We remember that even if the pattern is increasing darkness, that pattern can change and light will come. It comes slowly, but it always comes.

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