The Winter Solstice marks the beginning of winter and the longest night of the year. In the northeastern United States, there will be approximately 9 hours of daylight, in contrast to the roughly 15 hours of daylight at the Summer Solstice. The long nights of winter darkness are frequently associated with sadness in our culture, but if we choose, we can reframe them as an opportunity for creation.
Many animals hibernate during the cold winter months, emerging in the spring with their new babies. Bats, bears, raccoons, and woodchucks all withdraw for long winter sleeps, but unlike other hibernating mammals, bears give birth in the winter. Their slumber is interrupted—but not ended—by labor. Cubs nurse from their mothers inside the den for the first 3 months of their lives. When their mothers awaken, they venture out into the world together.
The winter holiday of Yule, which usually begins on the solstice, is recognized with feast and drink, and decorating with evergreen boughs, mistletoe, holly, and ivy. Traditionally, everyone comes together to celebrate, making the dark nights warm with fellowship and cheer, and with the burning of Yule logs. Thus, those dark winter nights are an important time for creating community.
The story of Mary giving birth to Jesus in a manger, surrounded by farm animals, can be viewed as a story of danger—she traveled far and was denied shelter in a sturdier structure at a time of great physical vulnerability for her and her baby. It can also be seen as a story of comfort and joy, in which Mary was kept warm and companioned by fellow creatures who accepted her in their midst, and later attended by people of high and low birth who celebrated her baby as the culmination of all that is possible.
Chanukah, which has just ended, is a festival to celebrate the rededication of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem following a revolt against leaders who had outlawed the Jewish faith. In one telling of the story of Chanukah, there was only one night’s worth of sacred oil to light the menorah in the temple, but it lasted for a full eight nights, until the oil supply could be replenished. Those long nights of darkness were lit by divine miracle.
Winter is now here, and it is yours to do with as you wish. You may celebrate with light and the company of your community. Or you may choose to withdraw into the quiet darkness to rest, or give birth to something new, or even to be reborn yourself.
However you decide to spend your winter, may the long nights bring forth your heart’s desire.