December 21st, the time of the Winter Solstice, is the time in our Earth’s relationship to the sun which creates the shortest day and the longest night of the whole year. This is the perfect time to understand and make peace with stillness and waiting, paying attention to the breath as it moves in and out of the lungs. Inside this deep contemplation is the opportunity for a seasonal practice of reflecting, a way of reassessing our journey through the closing year with opportunity to prepare for the new one just ahead.
Many festivals and rituals from all around the world mark this auspicious time of year by using light as a central element or theme – light which burns through the deepest dark and beats back the encroaching shadows, light to hold out in front of ourselves to show us the way, and light that holds out the promise of warmth, security, and community gathered around one another. The ancients who were compelled to structure their lives around seasonal fluctuations of light and dark, knew the secret to a dark midwinter’s night: backbreaking outdoor labor must come to a halt. Finally it was time to come inside to the fire and light of the home and hearth, and rest, celebrate and feast.
In ancient Rome, the festival of Saturnalia was held on the Winter Solstice, boughs of evergreen trees and bushes would decorate the house, gifts were exchanged and normal business was suspended. The Persian Mithraists held December 25th as sacred to the birth of their Sun God, Mithras, and celebrated it as a victory of light over darkness. In Scandinavia, December 13th was sacred to the Goddess Lucina (Shining One) and is now known and widely celebrated as St. Lucia’s Festival Of Lights Day. It is a celebration of the light in the midwinter, and includes processions of little girls wearing crowns of lighted candles. On Yule Day itself, around the 21st, bonfires were lit to honor Odin and Thor, central figures in the Nordic pantheon of gods and goddesses. It can hardly be a coincidence that the Christians, also used this time of year for the birth of their god, Jesus Christ, mystically linking him with the Sun.
For this coming Winter Solstice, in the midst of the business and stress of the holiday season, perhaps you will be able to set aside some time of your own to light some candles and sit in contemplation and quiet meditation. Know that the power of patience and the wisdom of the world is beneath the turning stars, and that others who have come before have gazed with wonder on the pale Sun and the cold Earth as they awaited the sun’s rebirth.
And as we too open to this moment, we can ask ourselves:
“How can I stand between the Known and the Not Known, on this threshold of a New Year?”
Now imagine unfolding the wrapped gift you have been carrying: the sum-total of all that you have learned on Earth, and perhaps through all your lives, wherever you have been – all that you have learned, opening to you at this time of Now.
May the long time sun shine upon you,
All love surround you,
And the pure light within you
Guide your way on.