December is my favorite month. I know you’re probably thinking it’s because of Christmas and getting gifts and having winter break from school, but you’d be wrong if you thought that. It’s a quieter time ~ the shorter days and long nights, the colder weather all requires snuggling in with blankets and hot tea.
As I snuggle in, I wonder about my ancestors way long ago who didn’t have the luxury of light and heat. They were surrounded by a deep darkness with the land quite bare. This a time of hibernation and transformation. The cycle of life is so apparent now. I can’t help but think of Elton John’s song The Circle of Life in The Lion King. Without darkness, there is no light.
From now until the Winter Solstice on December 21, we are in the darkest time of the year, each day getting shorter and probably, for most, colder. Because the warmth of the sun is enjoyed and definitely needed to grow our food, help the flowers bloom again from deep below the Earth, this is a month filled with many holy days, days honoring the light from the sun and rebirth.
In Sweden, December does not bring much light at all. So, on December 13, the Sun Goddess Lucia is celebrated in remembrance of the sun’s return. It is customary that, at daybreak, the first born daughter wears a crown of candles and serves the family lussekatter (saffron flavored buns) (and some are shaped like curled up cats with raisins for eyes). Later in the day, there is a procession in the town, and all the young girls wear white dresses, holding candles. People gather together and the song Santa Lucia is sung, as each person holds a lighted candle in the darkened hall.
In ancient Rome, the seven-day festival Saturnalia began on December 17, the feast day of Saturn (the God of agriculture) and Ops (Goddess of plenty). There was lots of feasting, candles and festivities. No one worked during this time, except for cooks and bakers (if nothing else, you have to have food). It was decreed that, “Soldiers must lay down their weapons. All men shall be equal – slave and free, rich and poor, one with another.” Maybe that’s where Peace on Earth, Goodwill To All came from? The holiday ended on December 23 with a large celebration for the birthday of the Sun by lighting sacred bonfires.
Mother Night is a Germanic/Scandinavian festival celebrated on December 20 when work is put aside and lots of candles are lit. It is a time to rest as the sun rests, remembering the cycles of the Earth. It is said that the dreams you have on this night will foretell events in the upcoming year!
The Jewish celebration of Chanukah (the Festival of Lights) begins at sundown on December 20 this year and lasts for eight days. In 169 BC, the Maccabees fought the Hellenistic people to maintain their religion and traditions. The Maccabees regained their temple in 166 BC. To rededicate the temple, the Macabees lit a single jar of oil, which miraculously lasted eight days even though there was only enough for one day.
Each year, to commemorate this miracle of light, on the first day of Chanukah, a candle is placed on the far right in a Menorah, the shammas (the middle candle) is lit and three blessings are said before the shammas is used to light the first candle. Blessed be You, Lord our God, King of all space-time. Who makes us holy through His commandments and commands us to light candles for Chanukah. Blessed be You, Lord our God, King of all space-time. Who worked miracles for our forebears in those days at this very season. Blessed be You, Lord our God, King of all space-time. Who has given us life, lifted us up and brought us to this season.
Then the candle is lit and songs sung. Every night after the first, one more candle is added, beginning on the right side, and they are lit in sequence. The first candle lit each night is the one representing the new day. No one works during the time the candles are burning.
This year, Winter Solstice arrives on December 21 or 22, depending on where you live.
It is the longest night of the year, bringing hope and promise when darkness will give way to the light. It is the rebirth of the Sun, the return of life.
There are many ancient structures that were built to be in alignment with the Winter Solstice. In New Grange, Ireland, there is an ancient circular stone structure over 5,000 years old. It was built so that, at dawn, on Winter Solstice, a ray of light illuminates a stone basin below carvings of shapes of eyes, discs and spirals.
There were many ancient rituals to celebrate the return of the Sun at Winter Solstice. Here are just a few:
- It’s believed that the celebration of Solstice began with the Mesopotamians. Their festival of renewal lasted for twelve days to help God Marduk tame the Monsters of Chaos for another year.
- The Druids celebrated the Solstice in honor of their Sun God’s return, signaling the coming of spring. A Yule log becomes part of a great bonfire that everyone dances around. The noise and excitement awakens the Sun from its long winter sleep.
- In Pakistan, Chaomos (Winter Solstice) was celebrated. It was believed that the ancient demigod returned to collect and deliver prayers to the Supreme Being (Dezao). The women and girls took ritual baths and the men were purified with water poured over their heads After the purification, a festival was held with bonfires, singing and dancing.
- In Sweden, Winter Solstice was celebrated as Midvinterblot where local gods were paid tribute and asked to release winter.
- In Norway, no wheels could be turned since this would interfere with the wheel in the sky ~ the Sun.
And, of course, there is Christmas on December 25. Yes, I know this isn’t a celebration about the Sun, but it is the celebration of the birth of the Son who will grow up and share his heart, his love, his wisdom and his life. All over the world, the Son of God is honored with creches or nativity scenes, showing Jesus lying in a manger, in a barn, in Bethlehem, with his mother Mary, his father Joseph, and the three Wise Men who followed the Star of Bethlehem to find Jesus, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
In the Gospel according to Luke, it is written: ”And there were in the same country Shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the Angel of the Lord came upon them. And the glory of the Lord shone round about them; and they were afraid. And the Angel said unto them, ‘Fear not! For, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the Angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will towrds all’.”
So you can see, there are lots of traditions and celebrations during this time of year, and they pretty much have the same theme ~ honoring the light, whether it is the Sun or the light we all have inside our hearts as Jesus shared. In our house, as each day passes and gets darker, and we prepare for a new year, we take time to think about what is holding us back from shining our light ~ being the best us. Do you ever wonder about that?
Here’s to light, love, family, tradition and celebration!