How to Find Light on the Darkest Day of the Year
The winter solstice marks the beginning of our journey back to light
Historically, winter has always been my least favorite season. The cold weather, gray skies, and nightfall that arrives painfully early used to make this time of year feel not only interminably long but, frankly, depressing. This was especially true of the years when I lived in Chicago, when the winter seemed endless.
Maybe this is why I never paid much attention to the winter solstice. Typically arriving on or around December 21 each year, the solstice marks the shortest day of the year. And while the days technically begin to get longer from this point forward, the solstice itself has always felt like it was simply heralding the long, dark months still to come. Besides, with the solstice arriving right before the rush of winter holidays and the mad scramble to finish work projects before the year’s end, I always lost sight of it.
Once I began studying the traditions of our ancestors, however, my perspective changed. Now, the winter solstice is my favorite event of the year.
The word “solstice” comes from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (stop). Ancient people kept close track of the seasons, and to them, the sun momentarily appeared to stop moving. For thousands of years, people around the world have been honoring the occasion in a variety of ways.
While they still faced months of winter, they viewed the darkest night of the year as a reason to celebrate. From that point forward, they knew, the days would gradually become longer and the earth would offer new plant and animal life to sustain them.
According to the children’s book The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice, ancient Romans 2,000 years ago decorated their doors with evergreen wreaths, hung mistletoe and holly in their homes, and gifted each other evergreen branches as symbols of good luck. One thousand years ago, Druid priests in England and Ireland decorated oak trees with golden apples and candles, while in Sweden, girls wore crowns of evergreen and candles…