There are a number of holidays in December – many of them religious. One holiday that is celebrated throughout the world among people of different faiths and cultures is the winter solstice. The Solstice marks the beginning of winter. It is the shortest day and the longest night of the year. After the Solstice the days begin to get a little longer and the nights a little shorter.
The Winter Solstice celebrates light or the victory of light over darkness. Most of the holidays in December of our present and past also emphasize light. Christmas includes holiday lights on trees in and outside the house and other bright decorations. The Christmas story features a brilliant star that lit the sky as a symbol of life over death. Hanukah is a celebration that involves the lighting of a Menorah’s candles. In Sweden St. Lucia’s Day is celebrated with girls wearing a crown of candles and star boys who carry a star on a stick or lanterns. Other examples of the role of light is the lighting the Yule log, the feast of Saturnalia in ancient Rome, the Zoroastrian festival of Sada in Iran with a huge bonfire meant to stimulate the sun to grow stronger, Zuni and Hopi rituals to insure the victory of light over darkness and the Inca’s of Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador and their Festival of the Sun.
These days the darkness isn’t usually a threat to our survival but that wasn’t the case in the past when these ceremonies were established. Survival was a very real concern. Now, many people become depressed when it’s so dark out all the time. Illnesses like SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) are real.
The Winter Solstice and its focus on light can be a magical time. It’s reassuring to most people that after this it will only get brighter out. Whatever holidays you may celebrate in December it is likely that light has a role. I don’t think anyone can argue that light is something that we can all celebrate at this time of year. Happy Solstice!
Kristin Eggerling is a board member for Conservation Minnesota Voter Center, the mother of two, and a freelance writer in northwestern Minnesota.