I’ve been thinking about the solstice a lot this year, perhaps because I am more aware than ever of the Earth. Everywhere I look, I see earth and trees and sky and meadow. And so I wonder about it more often. I marvel how human culture is tied to the cycles of the planet. Even though we’ve forgotten the original connection of our customs to the rhythms of the earth, it is there. The Christian celebration of Christmas sprung from midwinter celebrations of all kinds. Seems that many cultures, especially those that thrived in northern climates where the winters are darkest and coldest, celebrated the winter solstice with a sense of relief and happiness, and used it as therapy for the winter blues. SAD is not a modern malaise!
I looked up solstice on Wikipedia and under a heading, “Therapeutic,” was this paragraph:
“Midwinter festivals and celebrations occurring on the longest night of the year, often calling for evergreens, bright illumination, large ongoing fires, feasting, communion with close ones, and evening physical exertion by dancing and singing are examples of cultural winter therapies that have evolved as traditions since the beginnings of civilization. Such traditions can stir the wit, stave off malaise, reset the internal clock and rekindle the human spirit. ”That last sentence is what gets me—oh, how we try to make the best of things. Let’s be “the glass is half-full” kind of people. I like that response. But it isn’t just blind optimism; the sun really is coming back. The days really are getting longer. We will not perish in darkness. Food will grow again, birds will sing, flowers will bloom. My calendar calls December 21 the beginning of winter, but I’m sticking with the title, Midwinter. I’m siding with the optimists.
While listening to NPR the other day, a Jesuit priest bemoaned the growing tradition of sending Christmas, or holiday, cards with pictures of your family on them. “More of the holy family and less of your family” was his complaint. Even though I haven’t been a Catholic for years, I still felt guilty. (Ah, that Catholic guilt—once instilled, it never quite leaves!) Reading and thinking about the solstice, though, has given me a new appreciation and perspective on the “holiday” season. There is something special about this time of year, and it doesn’t belong solely to followers of Jesus or any other religion. Celebrating this season is a deep part of our human nature, and a deep response to our place in the natural world. Sure, if you’re a Catholic, you may want to focus more on the holy family—but if you’re not, your participation in the festivities is just as valid. Sending and receiving pictures of loved ones is a way to connect with others when travel may be difficult. Feasting and gift giving, lighting up our homes and decorating with greenery serve to raise our spirits and give us something to do besides curl up with the covers over our head.
I love, too, how this time of the year makes us reflective. With the return of light, there is a kindling of hope and resolve deep within most people I know. The older I get, and with this move to the country, I reflect more on the planet and my involvement with it, for better and for worse. I would like to get to know my patch of land better this coming year. I would like to grow in sensitivity to it, learn to read it better. Through that process, I’m sure I will get to know myself much better—the good and the bad.
John and I have argued over which side of the bed we get to sleep on in our new bedroom. I’ve argued for my standard side, which is the left if you’re standing at the foot of the bed, looking towards the headboard. Ultimately, I’ve had to compromise—we’ll switch every month. And here is why:
That is the sunrise as seen when waking up on the left side of the bed, unfettered by the lump of your beloved under the covers.
Happy Solstice Everyone! May your view of the sunrises be lovely this year.