Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Longest Night

I've been cycling home in the dark at 4 p.m. for the last couple weeks. I’d have to say that the short winter days are one of the most challenging aspects of life in the northern tier, but things are turning around. Today the Winter Solstice occurred in Seattle at 9:11 a.m., marking the end of our ever-longer nights and the return of light.

Not to lessen the significance of Christmas, Hanukkah or any of the other festivals of lights, but this astrological event is the original reason for the season. The Earth is tilted on its axis at, on average, a 23.5-degree angle and today is when the North Pole is farthest from the sun, causing it to appear to rise and set in the same place. We call it the first day of winter, and while the days will now grow longer by increments until the Summer Solstice in June, the average temperature of the “top” part of the globe will continue to drop as the oceans slowly lose the heat they still store from the warm summer months.

Humans can hardly think without resorting to metaphor and there is none more profound than this. It’s not an accident that this is a time for reflection as well as celebrating new beginnings. It’s not an accident that we seek out the people who mean the most to us, family and friends, those we love and without whom we live in perpetual winter. It’s not an accident that Christians retell the story of the birth of a child, the son of God, the light of hope in a darkened world. It’s not an accident that we give one another gifts and wish each other merriness, happiness and cheer – the darkness is passing, buck up, light is returning, have hope.

Winter is often used as a metaphor for death, but the comparison is superficial. The trees may not have leaves, the forests may have been temporarily emptied by hibernation and migration, there may be fewer children on the play grounds and at the beaches, and it may stay that way for some months to come, but we shouldn't mistake stillness for death.

The word “Solstice” comes from the Latin phrase for “sun stands still.” We spend the rest of the year in motion, moving forward, making progress. But if we can hold still long enough to listen, we hear winter whispering to slow down, take stock, cut back, rest, tend to the core of what makes life worthy of its name. All is calm. All is bright.

Even the sun stands still today.

(Reprinted with edits from the last four Winter Solstices. I keep thinking of writing a new one, but this one still says everything I want to say.)

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Floor Pie said...

I've always loved this one. Happy Solstice, my friend.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. I love how the lights of Christmas, Hanukkah and other festivals of lights brighten up the winter nights in the northern hemisphere! We spent a year in New Zealand, where these holidays occur during summer and there are no beautiful lights to brighten the long winter nights come June. To me the lights make a huge difference.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful! Thank you.

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