But I grew up in California, where “seasons” meant a change of 20º in either direction. Here in the pacific northwest the summer really means something, and the winter is all-consuming. My life is guided by “light” in a way that that I’d never understood before. And for every blissful moment of sundown-at-ten midsummer madness, there’s a difficult, up-before-dawn and wind-in-your-bones winter counterpart.
Damian and I celebrating our first Winter Solstice together, circa 2006.
Tomorrow, 21 December, is the shortest day of the year. Ever since the Autumn Equinox, the days have been shorter than the nights – and getting shorter, shorter, shorter. Tomorrow marks the height of darkness. The following day the light begins to grow again.
The Winter Solstice is celebrated worldwide and across all cultures. We are all tied to the earth and her seasons; we are all affected by light. And this shortest day of the year offers a unique opportunity for reflection. It’s a chance to examine our own relationship with the darknesses of the world. A time to hold space for our own dark thoughts.
Back home the Solstice was a favorite holiday. It meant reuniting with lifelong companions, it was deeply steeped in tradition. There was a shared and sacred sunset, and the ritual making of fire. There was the rock labyrinth; there was feast and drink. There was always the circle for sharing. And, there was always the reading of this poem:
by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.