Tomorrow, December 21, marks the Winter Solstice… and the First Official Day of Winter.
In case you are unfamiliar with the term Winter Solstice, it is the time of year with the shortest amount of daylight and the longest night of the year - 9 hours of sun and 15 hours of darkness (except those of in Michigan know the days feel even shorter than that because the sun hardly ever shines in Michigan in the winter!!!).
It’s opposite is the Summer Solstice (the First Official Day of Summer), which occurs on June 21, exactly 6 months apart. On this day, we observe the longest amount of daylight and the shortest night of the year - 15 hours of sun and 9 hours of darkness.
Before I became a farmer, these 2 dates held no significance for me. Sure, I knew the days were longer in the summer and shorter in the winter, but I never paid close attention to the patterns.
Now… my life and livelihood revolve around these days. My year is planned according to daylight hours and the changing of the seasons.
Once I started to pay attention I was surprised to discover that lots of living things are daylight length sensitive…
Plants. Did you know that plants need a certain amount of light/darkness on order in bloom? Poinsettias, for example, need short days/long nights… hence their popularity during the winter.
Animals. Did you know birds only lay eggs when the daylight hours are long enough? Hence the reason chickens don’t lay eggs (or slow down) in the winter. It’s really starting to cramp my style because I want to make lots of Grandma Hamm’s Peanut Butter Cookies!
People. Did you know that SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), a type of depression that afflicts many people in northern climates in the winter, is related to lack of light? Yup. I’m one of them.
Many people feel a sense of melancholy, discomfort, restlessness… or maybe even fear during the dark days of the winter.
Gayle Boss, a Grand Rapids, MI based author, describes this haunting feeling powerfully in her Advent book, “All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings”.
According to Boss, those feeling stem back to the days of the early agricultural peoples. In the not so distant past, nearly everyone was intimately connected to the earth and it’s rhythms. Completely and totally dependent on the growing season and the harvest.
After the big fall harvest, it was time to relax and celebrate… but as the days became shorter and the darkness more prevalent, that ancient fear of darkness and death began to creep.
“In December the dark and cold deepen, and our rational minds dismiss it as nothing. We know that on December 21, the winter solstice, the sun will begin it’s return to our sky. But our animal bodies react with dis-ease. We feel, The light - life- is going. Those particularly afflicted know themselves as SAD - Seasonal Affective Disorder - suffers. Some of us cope by seizing distractions the marketplace gleefully offers: shopping, parties and more shopping....
...for us also, as for our ancestors, the dark end of the year brings unrest. It is an end. It comes without our asking and makes plain how little of life’s course we control. The uncertainty, we don’t know how to mark. And so it marks us. We feel weighted, gloomy even, and we feel guilty because voices everywhere in myriad ways sing our “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.””
I have felt this “dis-ease” that Gayle talks about, the guilt of feeling quiet, inward and reserved when the rest of the world seems to be pressing outward - embracing loud music, glitter, and non-stop parties.
I’ve learned to accept my dis-ease and make space to lean into it.
All through Advent, I have a ritual of turning on lights in our windows at dusk, while saying a short prayer “Come, oh come, Immanuel. Push back the darkness.”
It’s a small assurance to me that the days WILL get longer, that He will come to push back the darkness, figuratively… and one day, literally.
But… this IS the season of celebration, after all! As we inch closer to Christmas, my heart begins to lighten.
On the Winter Solstice, December 21, I like to fill my house with people I love and all things warm, cozy and comforting, as we celebrate the day when the darkness no longer reigns… the day that we start moving toward the light.
During our Winter Solstice party, we illuminate the house with only candles and Christmas lights. We serve heavy, warm comfort foods. We feast, we drink, we share warmth, we share light, we share laughs, we share hope for the future.
It’s our way of celebrating that the darkness no longer has power over the light. That even when the darkness seems to be overwhelming, we trust that brighter days are coming.
What a powerful way to prepare our hearts for the Celebration of the Birth of Immanuel, “God with Us”. The solstice fills us with hope, excitement and anticipation.
Tomorrow evening, we will fill our home with light, love and laughter.
Tomorrow evening we celebrate light over darkness.
How about you? Do you like to mark and observe the rhythms of the seasons too?
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”
- Isaiah 9:2
P.S. If you don’t have a copy of Gayle’s book, I highly recommend it. Each day is a short reading to prepare for Advent. It’s written for adults, but appropriate for children and families too. In fact, the book is based on Advent reading Gayle wrote for her own children.
I think you’ll love it as much as I do.