What lies dormant in the frozen ground? What lives beneath the thick ice of ponds? What hibernates in caves? In the northern hemisphere, the energy of life has left the surface of the world and gone underground. Winter solstice or Yule is the longest night that marks the boundary of the dark and the rebirth of light.
‘Tis the season to be swept up in the frenetic holiday rush—presents to buy, cards to send, parties to host and attend, and the 999th rendition of “Rudolph” to listen to on all-Christmas-all-the-time radio. It’s fun, exhausting, and out of sync with the encroaching dark that breaks into our afternoons with early night.
Sometimes, I long to cocoon in the darkness and feel the tender proximity of death and linger with it awhile, for soon the wheel will turn. Christians light advent candles in the dark days of early December preparing our hearts for the holy birth. As a child I loved the mysterious feel of anticipatory quiet on Christmas Eve when the darkness of despair became, with the birth of baby Jesus, the darkness of hope. My personal interpretation of the holiday has changed. For me the dark is not about sin or evil, but about the rich fragrance of soil and damp of caves, and rest between the hard labor of growing seasons. It is about the dark face of the Goddess who gives me strength to endure endings, set boundaries, and keep my senses open to what new birth may come into my old life.
My niece cut out lovely, ethereal paper snowflakes—intricate patterns of white paper and empty space that my son strung across my living room. The known and the unknown, the empty and the full, swirl gently in space and cast shadows on my walls. When I am home, I like to light a single candle and let it burn through the evening. It has the power to lift my spirits even to the last dish I must wash and dry.
In his poem “Shadows” D. H. Lawrence writes, “As autumn deepens and darkens/ I feel … the softness of deep shadows folding, / folding around my soul and spirit, around my lips/ so sweet, like … the drowse of a low sad song singing darker than the nightingale, on, on to the solstice/ and the silence of short days, the silence of the year, the shadow, / then I shall know that my life is moving still/ with the dark earth, and drenched/ with the deep oblivion of earth’s lapse and renewal.”
Life is always in motion. The stages of our life’s journey whiz pass as year after year we come again to winter solstice. On my drive into Boston from my home some 20 miles to the north, when the highway is stalled by traffic as it frequently has been with the mall Christmas rush, my GPS navigates me through suburban back roads. I drive down street after street of single family homes, many of which are lit up for Christmas. I grew up in such a home; once my husband and I owned such a home and raised our children there. Now, I no longer belong to this once familiar landscape. Grandchildren carry on the cycle of the winter holidays with their excitement over presents and other traditions. But, I don’t have grandchildren yet, if ever. My children are in some transit of their own between adolescence and adulthood.
This Christmas morning my son, daughter and I will wake up in Paris—how exciting, but not same as Christmases with my husband, William, who even though he hated Christmas and claimed his favorite day was December 26, was a beloved part of our festivities. I’ll bring along bayberry candles to burn for luck in the new year in our Air B&B in the 19th arrondissement of the City of Light. My children and I will make a day trip together to Chartres Cathedral to light a candle for William, for he loved the intricate visual display of medieval Christianity carved in stone and wrought in stained class there. It is a pilgrimage I have long dreamt of making in his memory. As so much in life this journey is bittersweet—delight laced with loss.
As crones we have come to the winter season of our lives. Winter brings “snatches of renewal, odd, wintry flowers upon the withered stem, …new blossoms of me,” Lawrence writes. May each of us continue to blossom in beautiful and unexpected ways as we remain open to life’s turns, both dark and light. May we find meaning, deep renewal, acceptance, and joy in this season wherever our paths lead.
In the spirit of warmth and light,
Winter Solstice Candle
Light a candle of hope as darkness falls and you return home. Offer a blessing for the world and a prayer for justice, peace, and the courage to fight on. Let the candle burn throughout the evening to warm your heart and be the symbol of the force of your bright spirit for good in the world.
The pirouette of the known with the unknown, the empty with the full.