I know, I know. Why add one more holiday to this Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa extravaganza?
Here are a few reasons:
- It’s outside.
To celebrate the longest night of the year—the day when the solar year bottoms out and starts to climb back up again—we go outside and light a fire. We stand around it, stamp our feet a little to chase away the cold, and something magical happens. My “to do” list drops out of my mind. I breathe deeply. I look up at the stars and the rosy faces of my children lit by firelight and I feel totally and completely calm. The house—full of half done projects and baked goods and decorations that are starting to droop—can feel too chaotic. But the fire is peaceful.
Sometimes we invite friends to join us. Sometimes we sing Christmas carols. Sometimes we talk about what we hope for next year. Usually someone will remark how cold and dark it is just steps away from the fire. But mostly we sit and stare at the flickering flames. Fires have that kind of power.
- It helps keep “stuff” in perspective.
Fires have another power—they transport us. While I stare at the flames, I can’t help but think of how people, for millions of years, have gathered around fires. I think of my own ancestors who crossed oceans and plains and survived by fires. I think of people who still, today, cook over an open fire. For a moment I am linked to them. And I feel so grateful for a warm house, warm clothes, enough food in my belly.
Celebrating the winter solstice gives me a much needed reality check in the buying frenzy that Christmas can become. In fact—we don’t need much.
- It’s a holiday that is nobody’s turf.
We are in interfaith family—my in-laws celebrate Hanukkah—and we have a lot of holiday traditions. It is lovely and I’m glad my kids get to see that this holiday season holds magic for people of many faiths. But, sometimes when I’m celebrating a holiday that’s not really “mine,” I feel like an outsider. And I try to be very sensitive to the fact that my young nephews don’t get a visit from Santa. But the winter solstice belongs to nobody. And in that way, it belongs to everyone. We can all gather around a fire and know we perfectly belong.
- It reminds us what we all have in common.
No matter what you celebrate or what you believe, we all have the sun and the earth in common. Our year ebbs and flows, and at its darkest point, we can be assured the year is on its way up again. I suppose it’s no accident that many of the holidays around this dark time of year are full of candles and stars and light. We’re all trying to chase away the darkness in our lives and reassure ourselves that the light will come back.
Celebrating the winter solstice helps me teach my kids that despite feeling different, religions are all very similar. They are humanity’s answer to the larger cycles of dark and light in our lives. Religions help us amplify the light, beautiful parts of life and comfort us in the dark times. If my kids can understand that, perhaps they won’t be afraid of people with different beliefs.
- It perfectly echoes the Christmas holiday that I celebrate.
Like peppermint and chocolate, quiet reflection outside by a fire and the simple Spirit of Christmas are perfect companions. It makes a beautiful backdrop for re-telling a story that begins with “Many years ago, on a dark, quiet night just like this, in a simple stable, something wonderful happened. Something that changed the whole world…” I imagine it pairs well with the Hanukkah story of the courageous Maccabees standing their ground and the lights that burned brightly and miraculously for them. In fact, I imagine quiet reflection by a fire pairs well with any important story I want to tell my kids. And isn’t that what this time of year is all about?
So again, this year, when the darkness falls on December 22nd, you’ll find us gathered outside, around the fire, talking and laughing—and loving the winter solstice.
QUESTION: Does your family have any unique traditions that keep you connected to nature, each other, and the people of the world at this busy time of year?
CHALLENGE: On Tuesday, December 22, find a moment to celebrate Winter Solstice—even if that is just looking out your window at the moon for a few quiet minutes.
Edited by Rachel Nielson.
Image from FreeDigitalPhotos/dan with graphics by Anna Jenkins.