December 21 is the shortest day of the year, for those of us who live to the North of the equator. The North pole is pointed furthest from the sun, and experiences 24 hours of night. The South pole gets a full blast of sun for 24 hours.
Darkness wasn’t valued until the invention of video games and it wasn’t until I moved to Phoenix that I began to like the shorter days that bring us relief from the griddle of summer.
Our ancestors so disliked the dark, they brought artificial light into their lives in as many ways as possible. Sometime in the late 1400s, people decorated trees with apples and nuts to keep the birds alive (and worth eating) and then added candles to the trees, to chase the darkness.
The Yule log is a large piece of oak that is lit to scare away the darkness (and accompanying evil spirits) and burns for days. In some traditions, the remnants of last year’s log is used to light this year’s log. Notice all the light being brought out to brighten the gloom of winter.
Hanukkah candles, which represent the miracle of a small amount of oil lasting for eight days starts with one candle and gets brighter until the last night when a total of nine candles light up the room. (The extra candle burns every night and is used to light the others.)
We are a heat-seeking, story-telling, light-loving people. If the sun and earth don’t cooperate, we’ll invent candles and blinking lights and fireplaces to provide heat and light. If I had my way (and aren’t you glad I don’t run the economy), we would celebrate the winter holidays–all of them–with candles and lights and song and food and forget about the crush of buying presents and the day after Christmas sales.
It’s the dark days of winter. Brighten up someone’s life with a smile or a small kindness. It will bring more warmth to your heart than a plaid slanket.
—Quinn McDonald wishes you a joyous Solstice.