The winter holiday months are literally the darkest days of the year, and can seem to be dark in other ways as well. The current political situation does little to ameliorate these feelings. Nature seems to be hibernating, and many of us (myself included) would love the opportunity to do a little hibernating, or at least find time amidst end of year work expectations and holiday preparations to sleep for a full eight hours.
Yet, these longer nights and shorter days encompass the holidays of light. In the western world, the two best known are Christmas and Hanukkah, each in its own way celebrating the return of Light. Kwanzaa follows, a cultural celebration, again with a focus on light. The season concludes with New Year, the ending of the dark and the rebirth of light in a new year, a clean slate. Historically, this season was known in different forms as Solstice, or the winter equinox, after which the daylight gradually grows longer. The ancient Celtic celebrations and the old Roman Saturnalia are two of these varying celebrations. Islamic tradition follows a different calendar which rotates through the seasons, but the month of Ramzan, during which one fasts and prays into the night, is followed by the joyous and often colorful celebration of Eed. If one broadens the parameters of the season to include November and February, then Diwali and Lunar New Year can be added to celebrations with a focus on light.
I think it is not a coincidence that such a broad base of cultures shares a component that focuses on light. Humans intuitively know that light does not mean only the physical aspects of light. Yes, the sun, the stars, fire and candles are involved. More than that, however, is the symbology of physical light for both intellectual and spiritual understanding. Someone who does not understand is “in the dark”; the depression that sometimes engulfs seekers on a spiritual path is called “the dark night of the soul”. Thoughts and actions which run contrary to life and are devoid of compassion or true creativity are called dark thoughts or actions. We are aware of dark magic and the outer darkness into which some are believed to be cast. Yet, all of us long for the dispelling of the darkness. All of us long for Light. We are diurnal creatures; we are spiritual creatures, seekers of truth, even when we are wandering and seem to be lost.
I think these winter celebrations of light are a recognition of that longing. We recognize our darkness, and, if we are wise, accept and learn from it. And we move on, ever forward, each in his or her own way, into the Light. As this process repeats itself within us, we are healed.
We are living in a time that is incredibly rapid, and which does not on its own simply stop for people to explore the dark and move forward into the Light. It is easy for people to feel lost and pressured and panicked in such a setting. It is important for all of us, both as individuals focused on our own growth, and as members of an ever growing and changing species, to take that time to examine our darkness and affirm and rejoice in the coming of the Light. It is especially important for those who think they cannot do it, and for those who think they do not need to. It is also essential to realize that the light is always in the background, even when it seems darkest. We are diurnal creatures, children of Light. We may experience darkness, but we vector towards the Light, our home. This is the lesson of the season – the light/Light returns. It was never really gone.
May the Light be with you, and stay with you. May you always welcome its presence.