Heart Fires Glimmer in the Light of Solstice
By C. Austin
“…Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! O, hear the angels' voices!”
– O Holy Night, lyrics by Placide Cappeau
The storm played into the midnight of the year and that is where we stand. The world festoons itself with pomp and decor for the arrival of the sun kings, the babes of consciousness that can lead us to the dawn.
Just as each country, each community, has its own holiday traditions, so too each person has their own private memories and hopes for what the holidays might mean to them. Perhaps no other celebrations in our culture are so fraught in a tangle of joy, despair and melancholy as the festivals of December.
Reasons abound for the vicissitudes of the holidays – good and bad experience, loneliness, unfulfilled expectations, fear, loss, depression – even the simple turning of years gives one reason to inhale sharply as another holiday passes by.
To that list we must add the event that fuels all December festivals, the winter solstice (this year at 9:48 AM PST on December 21). Though few people in modern times reflect on the return of light to the world, it may partly be the heritage of the solstice that underpins much of the scrambled feelings that so often sink or satisfy us throughout December.
Humanity has celebrated the winter solstice since it was sentient enough to notice it. Light, heat and warmth meant life, and the magical source that delivered those qualities was venerated.
Around the time of the winter solstice, from our northern vantage point, the sun appears to move as far south as we can observe. This is our shortest day of the year and it is from that moment that we can begin to observe the sun turning northward, gradually increasing the length of days.
Historically, in the dark and cold of winter, when survival was questionable, the return of a hint of light could turn the tide from distress at the sun’s gradual disappearance to joy, from winter toward spring.
That small light, that tiny homecoming, became the focus of the world’s great religions – midwifing every sun king with a birth date near December.
Humans for millennia have planned, prepared, feared and rejoiced in this lengthening of days. Although today we do not consider winter solstice a dramatic event, it is an encoded genotypic memory – recalled in how our brain translates cyclical light – and retained in our deepest unconscious.
That long-ago planning and preparation for the sun’s return at solstice exists today in our Christmas trees, reflective ornaments, baubles and tokens of love and luck and in every light that shines clearly into the darkness – these are what we on earth offer to support the life-giving light out in space.
It is no wonder to me that Christmas brings tumult into so many lives. We are patterned to fear the dark, the unknown, the unconscious, the shortening of time. We rejoice in light, in knowledge, in the false premise of control and the lengthening of time.
These patterned tendencies lay atop the primitive, ingrained human experience of the darkness, cold and deprivation that leads to renewal, light and abundance at solstice.
The resonance of our tendencies with the experience of our species may give rise to why we seek to replicate the best of our Christmas memories, why we feel lonely and dark even as people glitter around us, why our expectations can never be met, and why at a certain point, resignation will always ring in a New Year. It is our way, we are human, we feel the great turn, even if we no longer recognize it.
The beautiful Christmas hymn O Holy Night, depicts the fear, “the pining” of a world in darkness, the renewal of self in consciousness, of delivery from the darkness, if only momentary.
We rejoice when we see, when we feel the light, be it in the sky or in our soul. And the angels’ voices are the songs, the images, of those we love, who live with us on this small blue planet and whose gift of reflection is the best present one can ever receive.
It takes a community to raise a child, be it a child of flesh and blood or a child of light. It is community, the people we meet in passing, those with whom we linger and those who become our family, regardless of blood relation, that prove the antidote to this swirling onrush of seasonal tides.
It takes the strength of a community to foster the smallest of lights – be it the light of hope of an individual, the hope of a nation – or the grander celebration of a star, 93,000,000 miles away.
Hold, hold. The light will grow, but it needs time. Close the door to the wind, stoke the fire on the hearth and in the heart. Hear the music of the world’s soul, singing in the brilliant, frozen air as light pierces the horizon on New Year’s Day. January, with its frosted windows and slumbering landscape, hides a secret, the secret of a coming spring.