Yearning for Light in the Darkness: The Many Holidays Embracing the Winter Solstice December 19 2022
Are you afraid of the dark? Many people are, and many children are. Children come from the light-filled world of the stars and must adjust to an earth-life that alternates between light and darkness: day and night; peace and turmoil; love and hatred. These are all the extremes that come with living a human life.
In November in many countries and in many Waldorf schools, after Hallowe’en and All Souls Day, (El Dia de los Muertes, in Mexico), on Veterans’ Day, the festival of Saint Matin is re-enacted and this finishes with a lantern walk. Children make their own lanterns, light the candle and, after the stories of St. Martin are told or re-enacted, they walk through the land with their lighted lanterns, lighting the growing darkness with their own lights.
At this time of year when the sun’s strength reaches its minimum, the darkness becomes more a fact of life than the radiant light of day. Depression is reported in many people at this time of year. Those in areas of “the midnight sun” struggle with the ever-present darkness for a good part of the year. We all yearn for the light, perhaps in memory of our origins among the stars and suns of the universe, or in reflection of the illuminated goodness that comes with the birth of every new child.
Hanukkah began just before this was written. The eight candles of the menorah mark the miraculous eight days that the eternal flame in the temple burned brightly when the predictions indicated that a day or two is all it would last. The power of the prayer and sacrifice of Judas Maccabee, day after day, is reflected in the light of each candle. And we remember with a prayer the ever-present help in parts beyond us each time we light the candles — one for each day of miracle after miracle.
Santa Lucia comes on the night of December 16. Her crown of light leading the way in the middle of the darkest part of night to bring food to the hungry—as she did in her lifetime. She leads with the light of her crown of candles and with songs. She cares for all who are in need.
Las Posadas is a nine-day celebration in Latin American countries that brings another imagination of light and devotion. In this celebration, the counting of the nine days represents the nine months of pregnancy that lead the mother, Mary, to the birth of the Christ child. From December 16 through the 24, the noble ship of Mary brings the precious cargo in to shore, bringing the baby home to earth. In Mexico and other Central and South American countries, re-enactments of the Christmas story take place at different times during these nine days. On the last day, Saint Nicholas, or Santa Claus, comes and distributes food and warm clothing to needy children.
All these celebrations lead to the ancient celebration of the Solstice, the moment when the sun turns toward greater strength, greater light. From that moment going forward, the days grow longer, and the light increases, leading to the longest day of the year in June, at the Summer Solstice. Who does not rejoice at the increase of the Light? Who does not yearn for light in any darkness we experience? How wonderful to build pictures within children and—through them to all of us — of the eternal flame within every human being. Every one of us a light. We need never be afraid of the dark!