Lessons from December
In my Upstate New York home, the snow is on the ground. It has been for a while now, and it will stay off and on until around May. That’s right. May. In places in the world where Winter weather means a change in temperature and a change in scenery as mine does, it is also inherently and historically a change in pace. Things slow. Even if, like me, you still go to work everyday, cart the kids around to 16 different places and even sometimes make it to the gym, the earth around us is still sleeping. Even if we as humans do not always honor that, it persists.
And then, as the Solstice draws near and passes, the Winter world wakes back up again. Despite the snow sticking around until basically Summer, the days lengthen, the Sun warms the world for more and more hours and eventually, our living neighbors follow suit – buds sprout on the trees, Dandelions pop back up in our lawns, migrating birds come back to their nests.
I think that as people there are many things we have forgotten about being human, and honoring the great quiet, dark, stillness of December in the great northern places of the earth is one of them. We tend to jump right over it. And in many ways that makes sense – our ancestors celebrated the return of the Sun after the Winter Solstice because it meant the return of the hope of fertile ground, the birth of new life and an abundant harvest. We literally have holidays in every corner of the world that celebrate this, many without knowing it: from Yule to Christmas, Chanukah to Diwali, the incarnation or reincarnation of sacred light after a long, cold absence is a hallowed and holy time of year. And without picking a fight about the origins of Christmas, I will say that celebrations of both the Son of God and the Sun of God are marked in their stories by the ability of light to guide our humble human ancestors out of the darkness and into a hopeful future.
But there is another side to that. Another piece of the puzzle to consider, which is that our light-loving ancestors understood that to welcome the Sun was also to acknowledge that the darkness deserved its own sacrament. It’s own place in our hearts and its own pedestal of ritual. You cannot have light without darkness, you cannot have motion without stillness and the woken ground cannot exist without the sleeping earth. And there is value in that lesson – the lessons we stand to learn from December.
This was a time for standing still. A time for reflection on the year gone past, a time to enjoy family and friends, for feasting and for creative invention. Without outside work to be done, time was on our side. The short days meant more time without light, giving us the ability to introspect and connect with ourselves, with each other and with God in the silence and the stillness. It’s no wonder that our best human holidays happened this time of year.
The most important take away from this, of course, is that there is value in our down time. There is value in stopping, in slowing, in darkness and in quiet. This is really hard for people – its not something we are used to ritualizing and its not something we are used to seeking out. Darkness is evil. Silence is uncomfortable. We don’t have time to slow down. We are out of practice at this now. But I would like to make the argument that we are worse off without it.
Some of us are still good or at least ok at the SECOND part of December – the part where we start over. The part where we set intentions for a new year, the part where we celebrate the waking back up of things. A lot of us still skip over even that, but I think its still easier. We live in such an overactive, hyperstimulated culture – the masculine nature of our Sun and Sky based culture generally does ok with the daytime, and the work to be done during it.
The lesson of the Solstice, then, becomes twofold. First, we have to stop demonizing the dark, the slowness, the silence. These things are associated with the divine Feminine, the Great Mother, the Earth Goddess and the Underworld. They are uncomfortable in our society because the patriarchal pulls of our history have fought hard to make them such. Rise above it (or sink below it, more properly). Second, learn to honor that sacred stillness: take a nap, call in to work, mediate, reflect, just SLOW DOWN. Our bodies, hearts and spirits are not wired in this Northern world to push as hard as we push in the winter. It is not in our ancestral DNA. I truly believe that some folks who suffer from seasonal affective disorder this time of year are often just regular humans who are shamed by our overculture into thinking that their inclination towards the dark and the deep during the winter is unnatural. It’s not.
And yes, we celebrate the return of the warmth and the light. We celebrate the new year, we set new intentions and look towards the future. It’s not that that part of the story isn’t important - it’s just not the only thing there is. Because there are other lessons in December that have been lost to time. And its worth finding them again.
Happy Solstice, Blessed Yule, and a very merry Season-of-the-Light-Holidays. Whichever one or ones connect you with the Spirit this December, may the month find you well, and may the New Year bring you peace.