I know it’s been well over a week since December 21st, aka the winter solstice, but it’s a subject I really wanted to write about before it was altogether too late.
The winter solstice is both the best and worst day of the year: the worst, because it’s the shortest day; the best because from thereon out the sun hours get longer and longer.
For anyone with Seasonal Affective Disorder, it’s a rough time to get through. I know I personally have major struggles as the sun leaves us in streaky dusk by 3:30pm.
Even though logically speaking there are still 24 hours in a day, it somehow seems like there’s not enough time to do things. Anxiety and depression increase, and most of the time there’s not much you can do but weather the internal storm.
I’ve tried pretty much everything I could to stave off the decline in mood, from regular exercise to eating healthier to frequent social excursions. Even with all that, reaching December 21st feels like gasping through the finish line.
The important thing is, however, that it is the finish line. As such, it warrants celebration.
My sister is home for the holidays, and in a discussion about how much we hate the darkest day of the year, we started talking about how various cultures choose to celebrate it. Most of the time you hear “solstice” and Paganism is the first religion to come to mind, but it’s actually a pretty ubiquitous time of year for celebration among cultures (albeit for different reasons).
In Paganism, Yule is all about the rebirth of the Sun God. A Yule log is lit to bring light to the hearth and home, and evergreen boughs are harvested to represent immortality.
Christianity’s Christmas, though not biblically about the solstice, borrows from Paganism in its Christmas tree tradition and our modern stringing of lights both inside and outside of the home to bate back the darkness.
Even Hanukkah in Judaism, though again not in celebration of the solstice, incorporates light in this darkest time of year as eight candles are lit to remember the Temple lantern miracle.
My family celebrates Christmas, but my sister and I were thinking that this year it would be nice to take it a step further and celebrate the solstice itself. A friend of hers is Iranian, and according to Persian traditions, the solstice is a night wherein you tell stories and read poetry while eating nuts and pomegranate seeds.
When you think about it, what better way to spend the longest night of the year than with storytelling? It’s what people have done from the dawn of time when all there is to do is tend the fire and wait for sleep.
And so she and I, along with a close family friend who we’ve adopted as a brother, decided to try this tradition for ourselves (with the addition of guacamole and some Pagan candles).
We had some fun making evergreen crowns as well, though I accidentally harvested spruce boughs and we spent a good deal of the time being itchy as the needles poked our scalps. Since we all grew up together, we reminisced about stories we had from childhood and growing up in Chambly. When we ran out of those, we watched a movie to have a story told to us.
It ended up being a whole lot of fun and best of all succeeded in making it a night nowhere near as bad as I had come to dread.
The important thing it made me remember is that it’s when things are at their darkest that we most need a time of celebration.
As Tolkien says,
But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.
And with that, let the days grow longer!
Do you celebrate the solstice? I’d love to know what traditions you have!