The winter solstice is the great turning point of the year. From time immemorial, people of the northern latitudes regarded this coldest and darkest time of the year with mingled foreboding and expectancy, for the longest night of the year was also the uncertain threshold of return towards the year’s fullness, when green things would grow again and life would be sustained. People felt a responsibility to participate in regenerative rituals to ensure the sun would wax again. Bonfires and candles, with their imitative magic, helped fortify the waning sun and ward off the spirits of darkness. These symbols live in our modern seasonal customs: the candles of Hanukkah and Christmas are kin to the fiery rites of old, which celebrated the miracle of earth’s renewal. © 2018 Paul Winter Site by Kay Friday
Lately, it’s been pretty dark and gloomy lately here on LI. I try to ignore the weather at this time of year and do things that will keep me cheerful. In less than a week it will be time to celebrate the Winter Solstice. December 21 is the shortest day and longest night of the year. My daughter (who suffers from SAD…seasonal affective disorder) really looks forward to it because from that day forward the days begin to get longer, so for her, there’s HOPE.
Today after trying to keep up with Christmas preparations, I announced that from hereon I am going to stop celebrating the usual holidays and focus on the Winter Solstice. The idea of it has always appealed to me ever since I first learned about it approximately 25 years ago. I was home alone (my husband worked nights at the time) and I listened to the entirety of a radio broadcast on NPR that focused on the celebration of the Winter Solstice complete with a history of the occasion. I was spellbound. The idea of there being revelry on the darkest night of the year really appealed to me. I am fascinated by pagan rituals and how they continue to be celebrated.
New York offers a very amazing Winter Solstice celebration each year at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Created by Paul Winter and the Consort, (he is a tenor saxophonist who plays throughout the performance), it is a celebration of night, of light, of music, and magic. Each year there is a different theme and musical guests. The first time my family attended, perhaps ten years ago, we were hooked. Until now I have never found anything quite like it. //solsticeconcert.com/wintersolstice/
This year we will be attending Revels in Boston. We will be visiting my son’s in-laws for the first time at their home, and our first night will include the Revels and dinner in Boston. I am very excited to learn about a new (for us) Winter Solstice celebration and am eager to compare this one with the one I am familiar with in NY. Having said that, I know it will be unique and special in its own way.
So next year, I informed the family, we will gather evergreen branches in the woods, make animal spirit masks, make sure everyone has a drum or another instrument of choice and light a big bonfire. This is all a dream, of course, but it’s my idea of a carefree, stress free winter celebration…with some gloog of course to keep us warm. I think the ancients really knew what they were doing when it comes to winter celebrations! Won’t you join us?
Photo: Courtesy of Eric Michael Tollefson/BANGOR DAILY NEWS