Now, in mid-December, the days are short. Our part of the earth has tilted nearly as far as it can from the sun. But never fear, the darkness is about to be overcome by light once again. The winter solstice will occur in another week. Sociologists suggest that primitive tribes were so terrorized by the vanishing light that they performed rites designed to propitiate the gods into bringing back the sun. But could our assumptions be wrong? Perhaps the early people knew well the earth’s cycles, and possibly the rites were more in the nature of thanksgiving for the regularity of those cycles. One story that I have from Dragons In The Water by Madeleine L’Engle*, has the Elder from a Venezuelan tribe as part of this conversation: “When the great golden disc raised itself clear of the mountain the chanting became a triumphal, joyful song………………..She asked, ‘Are you here every morning?’ He nodded, smiling. ‘It is part of my duties as the chief of the Quitzanos.’ ‘To help the sun rise?’ ‘That is my work.’ ‘It would not rise without you?’ ‘Oh yes, it would rise. But as we are dependent on the sun for our crops, for our lives, it is our courtesy to give the sun all the help in our power ----and our power is considerable…..We believe’, the old man said quietly, ‘that everything is dependent on everything else. The sun does not rise in the sky in loneliness; we are with him. The moon would be lost in isolation if we did not greet her with song. The stars dance together, and we dance with them.’”
Currently some people have Solstice parties for fun, but perhaps also still in gratitude, to celebrate that in the dead of winter, light begins to return. I know that I am really glad when it does.
We are a week and a few days away from Christmas. The evergreen wreath is on the front door, the tree is in process, a mix of Christmas and winter music is on the CD player and the aroma of baking cookies permeates the house. The fruit cakes are finally baked, (I can hear from afar, the moans of the fruitcake Grinches), doused with B&B Liqueur and stored away for a few weeks. Christmas cards have been coming ---- a few every day. Ours are not ready and I’m guessing they won’t find their way to most mail boxes until after Christmas Day. Since the twelve days of Christmas follow the 25th ---- it’s still Christmas when we finally get them out ---- usually, that is. One year it was well into January. Most patient people give us until Valentine’s Day before calling to see if we are OK. But to those of you who read this essay: MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY HOLIDAYS.
It is interesting that there is currently so much controversy over “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays”. I think it comes from a fear that Christmas might be lost amid the diversity of other holy days. But the early Christians basically stole the Christmas holiday that we celebrate at this time of year, from the Roman Saturnalia. It seemed to the early fathers (mothers had nothing to say about anything, in Rome) easier and more acceptable to use a holiday already in existence than to create a new one that would only confuse those they were trying to persuade. They did this same thing with several holidays. Since Christmas, Hanukkah, the Solstice, and Kwanzaa all happen within the month of December, it seems both courteous and fitting that we respect and rejoice in any holiday that encourages a connection with a Power greater than ourselves. Christmas doesn’t need to be defended; it only needs to be celebrated in the loving spirit that brought us Christmas over two thousand years ago. That much love will never disappear.
Actually, there are numerous December holidays one might observe. St. Nicholas Day is celebrated by Orthodox churches here and in western Europe on December 6th, in the Netherlands on December 5th, and in eastern churches, on the 19th. This year, the first day of Hanukkah was December 13th.. In Sweden, St. Lucia Day is celebrated on December 13th, and some young girl is chosen to wear a white robe and the crown of candles (electric ones now, for safety) symbolizing light coming to brighten the darkness in that far northern land. A friend tells me that in Stockholm, there is a Santa Lucia parade similar to NYC’s Thanksgiving parade. Quite a lot of years ago, my niece, Megan, wore the white robe and St. Lucia crown of candles for her church celebration. And of course, the Winter Solstice in 2017 is December 21st. The day following Christmas, in England is Boxing Day --- a time to provide for the needy, and in the U.S. it is the beginning of Kawanzaa.
By the time Christmas Eve comes, I am usually exhausted from the running, wrapping, baking and trying to remember everything on my lists. Our Christmas Eve service comes with a welcome spirit of calm. There is candlelight, with much music; many familiar carols, and this year the choir will be singing the Hallelujah Chorus (an awesome assignment for a small women’s choir). The Advent candles will be lit, including the center Christ Candle, and the ambiance is breath-taking and very meaningful. Of course, we all are alert for candle mishaps; one year someone’s hair was briefly on fire ---- no actual harm done --- but the smell of burning hair is not an incense fragrance one would choose. When we return home, we light candles in the windows; symbolic of welcoming the Christ Child, and also our family members who come very late.
As December deepens, there is something about this time that ignites a little bit of magic in all of us no matter what our backgrounds might be. Perhaps this season of Yule -- --Christmas --- Hanukkah is so very special because it is a continual reassurance that the darkness, no matter how dark, never has, nor ever will, put out the light of God’s goodness. With so much darkness in the world, even here around us, we need to remind ourselves frequently that Light will always triumph --- eventually. A favorite Peter, Paul and Mary song is “Don’t Let The Light Go Out”. It reminds us that we each are created to be light-bearers; that we too have a responsibility to carry light with us in whatever way we can. “And, so, Christmas comes to bless us! Comes to teach us how to find the joy of giving, happiness and the joy of being kind.” Gertrude Tooley Buckingham
*-Madeleine L’Engle – American writer of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. 1918-2007
**-Gertrude Tooley Buckingham—American poet and musician. 1880- circa 1964
Carol may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.