Wednesday, December 20, 2006

winter solstice

Today is the shortest day of the year. A wonderful chance to consider the long shadow you cast in the sunlight of mid-day. An opportunity to notice the light that might exist in darkness ... and how you will find that light and turn it on.

From today's Writer's Almanac email:

In the northern hemisphere, today is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year and the longest night. It's officially the first day of winter and one of the oldest known holidays in human history. Anthropologists believe that solstice celebrations go back at least 30,000 years, before humans even began farming on a large scale. Many of the most ancient stone structures made by human beings were designed to pinpoint the precise date of the solstice. The stone circles of Stonehenge were arranged to receive the first rays of midwinter sun.

I'd love to make a stone structure to do the very same thing.

We treat our dogs, cats, and horses on the evening of the solstice, and we also gift the wilder animals that share space with us. Deer and the birds, others we rarely see, like opossum and raccoon. Walking the perimeter of our property with candles in the dark of night is one of my favorite walks all year long.

Inside, we enjoy a special meal, open a family gift, and spend time together with music. I often think how affected we are by the shortening of daylight, and how many of our phrases associated with struggle and despair use images of night and morning. The long dark night of the soul. In the light of day. The sun will come up tomorrow. Etc.

Many solstice rituals focus on celebrating the lengthening of the days following the solstice, but I think the longest night is a reason to celebrate all on its own. The longest night is a wonderful time to string lights everywhere, light candles, build a fire, snuggle in with books, music, pets, children, one another. A long quiet night to let all things creative simmer and come to the surface. The perfect time to write down the thing you want to let go of or leave behind as the light of dawn approaches. We write ours down on slips of paper and burn them, and on New Year's Eve we take the christmas tree out, make a bonfire, and do it again, just in case there's something we forgot. :)

Two poems we always read out loud as part of our solstice ritual:

The Shortest Day

So the shortest day came and the year died,
And everywhere, down the centuries of the snow-white world came people
Singing - dancing - to drive the dark away.

They lighted candles in the winter trees.
They hung their homes with evergreens.
And burned beseeching fires all night long to keep the year alive.

And when the new day sunshine blazed awake,
They shouted "Reveille!"

Through all across the ages you can hear them - echoing behind us.
All the long echoes sing the same delight, this shortest day.

As promise wakens in the sleeping land,
They carol - feast - give thanks and dearly love their friends
And hope for peace.

And so do we - here now - this year - and every year.

Susan Cooper

Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost


Malnurtured Snay said...

Happy Belated Solstice Day!

billie said...

And to you. Thanks for stopping by.