The Winter Solstice

I’ve never been able to find the beauty of winter. People always talked about the power of Advent, the beauty of waiting for a great event, for reflecting and hibernating. But when I was growing up in Pennsylvania, everything always seemed so gray and dingy. So cold, so sad and dead. The spindly tree branches weren’t beautiful in their bareness, but ugly and leering, teasing. I could only picture spring buds and summer canopies with longing. The cold months have historically brought me great sadness as I ache for sunlight, for warmth, for the green I so desperately, continually crave. I looked back on some old journal entries from as far back as 2000, 2005, etc, and they all rail against winter (in increasing levels of eloquence). It made me feel slow and melancholy, sluggish. Lonely.

Just this year though, I’ve sought the unique, delicate beauty of this season for the first time, and only now have I seen it. There’s a magic in darkness and in small, flickering lights in that darkness. Winter is the season that doesn’t allow us distractions and makes us turn inwardly to face that darkness in ourselves and even in others. Without an abundance of light to guide us, we’re forced to face that darkness, to name it and to recognize it. The hibernation of winter that used to horrify me has, for the first time, intrigued me and begun to even inspire me. As a doer, an enthusiast, I find winter scary–there’s not that much to do. We stay inside more often, whereas I often want to explore. I’m trying to find comfort in that able to be still and do nothing, to lean into the darkness and stillness. There’s something beautiful about winter light, about milky cups of coffee, about the textures of socks and blankets and scarves all mingling on a couch as we read. The flickering light of a candle. The darkness in the morning that challenges us to move and get going when it isn’t easy, when we’d rather give into the darkness and stay in bed. When it’s cold outside, we’re uncomfortable, our noses red and our cheeks blown bare. But then how much more is the warmth of a home appreciated in comparison?

Today is the winter solstice, and for some reason this holds something magic for me, the awareness of the historical significance of this day. The very word solstice has a mystical, mythic ring to it. Marking the shorter day of the year indicates the beginning of the winter season, the acknowledgment that the next few months are going to be cold and difficult, but that we’ve reached that shortest day. That from here, it only gets brighter.

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The Shortest Day

So the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us — listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!

—Susan Cooper



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