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A Light in the Darkness: Celebrating the Winter solstice

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A Light in the Dark: Celebrating the Solstice

Because the night is dark and full of terrors.

-Game of Thrones

Today's sunrise happened at 7:17am, and sunset will occur just after 4:30, so we have somewhat more than nine hours of daylight. Even that light is dimmed through thick gray clouds that hint at snow. It's a dark chilly day, heading to a very long dark cold night, the Longest Night—the Winter solstice and the beginning of Winter.

The slow descent into Winter calls to us, through the darkening weeks of late Autumn, to let go, to get still and silent, to turn inward just as the bare trees have turned inward, just as hibernating animals have turned into their Winter quarters. And while there is so much festivity and hopefulness in this season as well, there is also solemnity and even sorrow. Yes the Yuletide season, the season of Advent, the anticipation of Christmas and the New year, with all the gift giving and merry-making, pushes us along towards celebrating light in the midst of darkness. But the dark is still dark. Cultures the world over celebrate the beginning of Winter, whether as a religious or a secular feast, but the pressures of consumerism, and of family expectations, can leach the mystery and joy out of these events. Perhaps our families are not the smiling, loving havens depicted on Christmas specials. Perhaps feelings of guilt and anxiety about our finances overshadow what we can share. Maybe what we really want is to rest, to be at peace, to not crave or push or desire anything we don’t have, but to be content and grateful with what we do have. To feel connected and cared for, not lonely and isolated. Perhaps what we want is to be okay with where we are, even with the parts that feel lonely or deprived. Maybe what we want is to know that it's okay to feel less than jolly, to be unmoved by the forced camaraderie. Maybe what we want is to acknowledge that the lights are made to shine so bright right now, because the dark really is that dark.

Driving through my neighborhood last night, I was taken aback at how dark it was at just after 5:30. The moon was not up yet and even the very last gleam of sunset had been swallowed up by thick clouds in the West. It was getting colder and windier, and I have to admit, the overwhelming feeling of gloom was softened by all the lights on the houses, transforming the dark houses into something welcoming and happy and magical. I needed that moment: seeing the pastel lights warm up snow covered bushes and bare trees. It had been a day of disappointments and stress. The push to finish the business of the year colliding with pressing deadlines, unexpected challenges, the sudden absence of the people I lost over this year. Everything I had failed to accomplish, and all the many things I had left to do just to get to New Year’s Eve-- all of it felt heavy and sad.

And then I saw gold lights peaking out from my neighbor's thick ivy borders. I saw candy colored lights twinkling from beneath the afternoon's dusting of fresh powder. Starry reindeer preening on the snowy lawn. And my heart opened a little, and the moment, which had felt so constricted and sad, became expansive and wide. The inky sky and thick icy air became protective and kind, able to receive my stress and sadness, and give me comfort in return. I felt the touch of everyone I missed, but was not swamped with longing for them. I was able to come into a house that was happily cluttered, not chaotic, where what I perceived as demands and obligations was suddenly replaced by feeling loved and appreciated. “Should” disappeared, and all that was left was a deep sense of peace and amnesty. Nothing had to be strived after. We were all able, finally, to drop into ourselves and know we had come home.

The Winter Solstice is a season of light in so many ways. We honor the light of the Sun, we honor the light of life returning slowly into our lives. We welcome the resurgence of life force that this announces. But we also return, in the most element way, to the sources of light we need. At Samhain, we commend ourselves to those who have gone before us, and we prepare to descend into the darkest, hardest, more fearsome time of the year. At Yule, in our descent into the dark, we rediscover what illuminates our lives. We rediscover, with gratitude and humility, the love in our families of blood and spirit, the power of our dreams and desires, the strength in our communities. In our darkest moments, we rediscover the lights that are never extinguished inside us.

As we celebrate the Solstice season, take stock and honor those sources of illumination, of connection and creation, that burn inside you. Take note of what brings light into the dark spaces of your world, and feed that fire. Watch it grow as the light returns.

 

Blessed be and have a Blessed Yule.

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Leni Hester is a Witch and writer from Denver, Colorado. Her work appears in the Immanion anthologies "Pop Culture Grimoire," "Women's Voices in Magick" and "Manifesting Prosperity". She is a frequent contributor to Witches and Pagans and Sagewoman Magazines.

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