Janet Sheridan: Celebrating the solstice
Now that Christmas is tucked away in my memory, where its bustle will fade and beauty improve, I find my only regret is paying little attention to the winter solstice Dec. 21, the day nature turns.
Throughout history, our predecessors commemorated the shortest day of the year and the gradual returning of the light with solemnity and ceremony. Being human, they also celebrated with feasting, drinking, dancing and general merriment.
But I never gave the solstice much thought.
Three weeks ago, as dusk descended on a day dominated by gray skies and snow sifting down like powdered sugar, I took a few minutes to watch the sun sneak away and thought, “I think the 21st is the winter solstice; the days will start getting longer now. Thank goodness.” I then closed the curtains and resumed my online search for the treatment of fallen arches.
But as Christmas came and went, thoughts of the solstice returned and lingered. I decided the day hadn’t been important to me in the past because I’d always lived where winter kept a cold, tight grip on the months of January and February; and living in a freezer made it seem like the days following the solstice lengthened at the pace of a speedy earthworm.
Also, when younger, I didn’t see the beauty in winter that I see now; I didn’t realize it offers time for observation and reflection not found in seasons when life slides by easily, and I’m too busy to look inward.
I’ve always respected, anticipated and enjoyed the seasons; my writing flows easily and strong when I describe them. But beyond a momentary recognition that the days begin to lengthen sometime in December, I’d never given much thought to the reaffirmation of life and the splendor of the natural world that can be found on the shortest day of the year.
I’d never taken time to celebrate the majestic rhythm of nature’s cycles, to stand in the frozen silence of the winter solstice and study the night sky: Orion striding through stars so clear, bright and present I could pluck them from the velvet sky and hold them dancing in my hands.
I’ve never taken note of the human tendency, forged through the course of centuries, to slow down and become more thoughtful in the prolonged darkness of winter. I’ve failed to look at the winter season and its solstice as a time of rest and reflection that allows me to spend time in my home, enjoy its quiet comforts and indulge in introspection.
I haven’t viewed the solstice as an antidote to the whirl and swirl of Christmas — a holiday I love. But to celebrate, we swarm stores, indulge our appetites and drive on icy roads to festive gatherings — keeping an anxious eye on the snowflakes swirling from the sky — when we could choose to stay at home with loved ones, watching the flakes fall.
The activities of Christmas can deplete us even as we enjoy them. Taking the time to attend to the solstice with thoughtfulness can calm us, center us, help us concentrate on the important things.
In the future, I want to observe the solstice as part of my Christmas celebration. I’ll pause, listen to the muted, slow-paced hymn that underlies the coldest, darkest season and honor my connection to nature and its cycles. I’ll draw on winter to nurture me, slow me, open me to the spirit of Christmas.
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