Thursday, December 21, 2006

The shortest day...

I felt compelled, for the first time ever, to do something more than give the first day of winter a passing nod. I wanted to celebrate it somehow. So I spent a good bit of time today collecting information about the winter solstice -- astronomical, social, religious -- and compiling it into something of a dissertation I planned to share with the kids this evening during our Advent devotional -- which we did tonight, at precisely 7:22 p.m., the official time of the winter solstice here on the east coast.

"I didn't know we'd become pagan," was my husband's wisecrack when I told him of my plans to celebrate the solstice. I let the comment go. I knew he'd find interesting some of the information I'd learned, so I'd let that speak for itself. And it did. He was duly intrigued.

I'd spent a bit of time late this afternoon constructing a centerpiece for our with a lot of candles and fresh pine and tiny pine cones...because our simple, one candle Advent candle just wasn't going to suffice tonight. Midwinter festivals have traditionally been celebrations full of light...candlelight, firelight. Light to ward off the darkness of winter. Light that will take you toward spring, toward new life, rebirth. And isn't that what Advent is also about?

For a half an hour, the kids and my husband sat with me around our table, illuminated by candlelight, my Celtic Christmas CD playing soft in the background as I told them of the traditions...the Chinese celebration of Dong Zhi, when the yin qualities of darkness were at their greatest but the hope of the light and warmth of yang were just around the corner. I told them about the Germanic pagan yule festivals and the Roman celebration of Saturnalia. I shared with them why we eat ham at Christmas (thank you, Scandinavians) and why mistletoe is hung in doorways (thank you, Druids). For half an hour, they listened and watched the candlelight flicker, a slim yet palpable connection to pagan ancestors of the past.

What fascinates me about all of these things, aside from the history itself, is how it all comes full circle for my family today. While the pagans celebrated the birth of the sun god, we now celebrate the birth of the Son of God. And whereas these other cultures celebrate the beauty and power of nature which they believe to control light and darkness, we celebrate the One who we believe is the Light in the darkness, the One who created all that is created.

It's an incredible circle, and as much as many people I know and love would probably be hesitant (if not outrightly aghast) at the notion of having common ground with those who are not of the same Christian beliefs as they are, I think it only makes us small and powerless to be unwilling to learn what others believe, both today and with regard to where various beliefs and practices came from in the past. After all, we are all the product of that one, same Creator. I think we owe each other that amount of courtesy. And I want my children to know that.

After finishing our devotions, I decided to bake. This is what happens when I am caught up with must-do's and have time on my hands. I bake at night. I had a banana that was dying to be made into bread, and so that's what I did. But I decided to make it special and added dried cranberries and almonds and pecans and walnuts to it, in honor of this special day. A bread full of goodies to give hope for brighter, warmer days ahead. I'm the only person in my house who likes banana bread to begin with, so perhaps it will become my own little tradition, my own special Midwinter Bread.

And somewhat the picture above, though you can't see it well, is a stuffed pillow with a simple Christmas tree painted on it. I got this decoration years ago from someone who turned out to not be a very good friend. We are no longer in touch because of that. But the pillow makes me happy nonetheless. It is a reminder to me that good can come from bad things if we let it.

May you find light in the darkness tonight and in the coming year.

No comments: