Winter and I have never quite succeeded in getting along with each other.
Every year, the days grow noticeably shorter. The temperature drops. Everything slows down except such year-round obligations as, say, going to work and paying bills. Included among the things that slow down are my energy and the capacity to deal with all the things that seem to speed up in comparison to my spirit’s attempt at hibernation. In short, I usually find winter to be a depressing season that I just have to survive until it’s over, and some years are easier than others.
I moved to Baltimore in September 2003, about two weeks before the autumnal equinox. Having no family in the area, and knowing only two people in the city, this was a time of great adjustment for me. I immediately became half of a new couple that had a brief and tempestuous relationship, ending two weeks before Christmas. It was devastating, and that may well have been the hardest winter of my life. I somehow made it through, but I would continue to see the season as a grave hardship that, unfortunately, I would have to battle every single year for the rest of my life.
I hadn’t really been a big fan of Christmas since leaving the United Methodist Church. The scars from my disputes with Christianity had not yet really begun to heal, and the overly-commercialized mess (in my opinion) that the holiday had become was a real downer and left a bad taste in my mouth. If I had thought to do so, I might have said a hearty “bah, humbug!” – but as it was, my focus was on making it to spring and trying not to feel left out entirely from winterly festivities. This was no easy task.
Then my church here in Baltimore started holding worship services on the day of the winter solstice. At first, there was a very small gathering in our parish hall, and it was quite an intimate, interactive and embodied affair. I don’t recall whether it had a specifically Wiccan bent, but it may have. In subsequent years, it was moved to our sanctuary and morphed into something more recognizable as a “Protestant-style” worship service, which was nice for some and not as nice for others. It has since become one of the most largely attended events on our church calendar and is the winter holiday of choice for many, including myself.
Learning about and celebrating the natural source of so many festivals of light meshed well with my understanding of my reaction to winter and made the mythic stories of the season more palatable. I simply wasn’t getting enough sunlight, and didn’t feel any personal connection to the winter festivals with which I was familiar. Acknowledging the reality of the solstice in story, ritual, and song [and by using a Happy Lite®, and a daily regimen of vitamin D, and a new attitude…], welcoming the return of the “light of the world” each year, has helped me to see that the season I so despised is part of a natural cycle in which I can find both joy and wonder. Instead of brooding melodramatically until the trees begin to bloom in the spring, I can actually enjoy the unique opportunities winter presents. Well, I still brood, but now I can actually live through the winter instead of just trying to survive it.
In addition to celebrating the Solstice, for the past six Decembers I have even gone with my partner’s family to their Lutheran Christmas Eve Service and celebrated Christmas with them as well. I enjoy spending the holiday with them even if I don’t claim it as my own. There’s something beautiful about so many people across so many diverse cultures trying to find a way to literally survive the winter. I might not ever have understood this as one of the origins of the Christmas story, which tells of a people celebrating the birth of the Sun/Son, the Light of the World, if it weren’t for the annual Winter Solstice service in my Unitarian Universalist congregation. Seeing the commonalities between the two and celebrating both, in my own way, is one of the most hopeful things I can do in this season.
We turn the wheel of the year; what is old dies and is born again.
May it be so!
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