I originally posted this December 21, 2019, and re-reading it today, I don’t think anyone could have predicted how things would look 12 months later. I’ve taken the original post and rewritten parts of it as it applies to this year. If you like, you can read the original post by clicking this link: https://riseabovetheashes.blog/2019/12/21/solstice/
Definition: a furthest or culminating point; a turning point
It comes every year. The nights grow longer. The cold deepens. Life slows down. People stay indoors, emotions run high, and tempers run short. Daylight hours are all too brief. Night seems an eternity. A time of lofty expectations and jam-packed schedules. Apart from a few rare exceptions, everyone’s focus is on one day. Depending on the person, that day may have significant religious significance. Perhaps it is about family and loved ones, about giving and generosity. About giving (and receiving) gifts. So much is tied to that one day – so much anticipation, yet it’s almost impossible for that 24 hour period to consistently hold up to the expectations people hang on it. I believe part of it is a hope to recapture some long-lost childhood magic. A chance to be with friends or family that doesn’t seem to happen during the rest of the year.
For others, that same day is painful, for a variety of reasons. Maybe a loved one is no longer alive to celebrate with. Maybe it’s a reminder of strained relationships, ones that may be beyond reconciliation. Maybe that childhood wasn’t so magical, and that one day is just an annual reminder of that fact. Maybe it’s just a simple reminder of financial hardship, and the pressure to give gifts and go to celebrations, possibly baking or cooking along with it, is just another reminder of how little they have – which is magnified against the rampant consumerism that this single day spawns. Although in 2020, so many of the traditions people have grown accustomed to (and taken for granted) will look very different. Some of those traditions simply are not possible this year. Travelling. Family gatherings. Social events. Staff parties. Christmas caroling. Church events.
Christian tradition holds that Jesus Christ was born on that day – although historians agree that was very likely not the case. For some, that is the man reason for celebration. For others, it’s about giving and sharing gifts, making memories, and spending time with loved ones. But again… this year, things are going to be very different. And I think, maybe, some people will start to see past what they think Christmas should be like and look for something deeper, more significant, less material. More compelling, less cruft.
Personally, every year I find the Christmas season to be difficult, for a variety of reasons. From a distant – and admittedly cynical – viewpoint, I see it as a recipe for disappointment. Year after year I watch as people rush and buy and spend and attend and bake and cook and socialize, hoping to find something, some connection, some thing or feeling to make them feel vaguely human… or at least up until 2019. Not a lot of that seems to be happening this year, due to the Covid-19 pandemic and it’s restrictions. And ever year Christmas day blasts past, and a few days later they’re feeling overwhelmed, overtired from all the busyness, and depressed on top of it, because yet again they overspent – despite promising themselves they wouldn’t let that happen again this year and they still feel guilty, because they don’t feel like they got to see all the people they wanted to, or attend all the events they felt they should have.
That’s not to say I hate Christmas. I just hate seeing what it’s become, and what people do (or think they’re expected to do) in order to “be in the spirit of Christmas.” And that wonderful little phrase seems to have incredible weight but the term gets incredibly nuanced… so what you do to “be in the spirit of Christmas” may be completely counter to what someone else may do to “be in the spirit of Christmas”. Different traditions, different family dynamics, different routines, different expectations… yet all “in the spirit of Christmas”. A phrase so powerful, yet so vague. No wonder I find that term rubs me the wrong way.
All this tension, the underlying hopes, fears, stresses, exhaustion, busyness, and chaos builds to a crescendo. People come crashing into Christmas day nearly burned out completely, thinking the past month of GO-GO-GO-GO-GO will somehow be balanced out with a completely magical 24 hours. And they’re disappointed when it’s not what they hoped. And it happens year after year.
I’m surprised more people haven’t caught it. Because up until this year, it happened like clockwork.
Personally, I find I anticipate a different day as much as Christmas – some years even more so. Most people hardly notice it, despite it being marked on many calendars. They don’t notice, because they’re so focused on Christmas. And they don’t really know (or care) about it’s significance. To be honest, I can’t really blame them. Christmas can be a wonderful time of year. However, the one day I spend months looking forward to is Solstice – specifically Winter solstice. It is the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. 8 hours of daylight, 16 hours of darkness. Typically the winter solstice also marks the onslaught of the coldest part of the winter months. Andrew, why on earth are you happy about the shortest day and the incoming harsh cold weather???? Its quite simple, actually – something that most people know subconsciously but don’t quite connect the dots on a more cognitive level. It’s always darkest before the dawn is one common saying. Usually people say it as an encouragement in challenging times, but let’s take it from metaphor to literal. If solstice is the longest night of the year – that means tomorrow night will be slightly shorter. It might only be by a minute or 2 – but it’s the shift towards longer days again.
Winter solstice is the annual equivalent of a sunrise. If you’re up early enough to watch an entire sunrise, you know it’s not just flipping a switch. It’s an event. The blackest night slowly gives way to subtle violets and blues on the horizon. Slowly, those shift to more vivid oranges and yellows, accompanied by various birds breaking into song. Finally, the sun breaks over the horizon, and light floods through, pushing away the blackness, and bringing much-welcomed warmth after the chill of night.
Winter solstice is my sunrise. I know there are plenty of long cold nights ahead. I know that there are days coming where the cold isn’t just in the air… it’s in my bones, and it’s in my mind. But I also know that for the next 180 days or so, the days will continue to lengthen. And if previous years are any indication, sometimes that hope and anticipation of a few more minutes or hours of daylight is the only thing that keeps me going.
This year, somehow, things are different yet again. Last year, in 2019, people were anticipating not just a new year, but a whole new decade. So much potential. So much opportunity. And for some, a chance to leave behind hurts and heartaches and start fresh. Who knew that a mere 3 months into 2020, that life as we knew it would get turned upside down. I’m talking, of course, about the Covid-19 pandemic. Other areas of the world were hit harder earlier in the year. In my area, it was on the news, it was in other areas of the world and around the country. But for whatever reason, my province was spared for months upon months. But then as summer transitioned into autumn, we got a harsh taste of the reality others had faced for months. Case rates spiking. Hospitalizations. Deaths. Restrictions. Lockdowns. Essential services and business only. Retail stores can only sell essential items. Restaurants closed to patrons, and offering take-out only. Many small businesses have closed permanently. It’s scary. Its not hard to feel the tension, the anger, the loss of stability. So much uncertainty in these times.
But with that uncertainty, there is also comfort in a sense. Just like no one could have predicted how challenging 2020 would be, I also think no one would have found more pleasure in the little things. I think 2021 might be challenging too, but 2020 has taught us some resilience. And just like we couldn’t have predicted the challenges, I also think we can’t predict the adventures, the highs, the moments and days that feel so right and so effortless. 2020 has definitely taken a lot of things from a lot of people. But I also know people have discovered new hobbies, or picked up an old one. Locally, although there is definitely an underlying tension, there’s also a strong sense of community. People encourage each other to be safe – and really mean it. Businesses helping other businesses. Neighbors helping neighbors. People calling each other on the phone, to actually talk and have conversations – instead of just sending a quick message. Because we all have a little more time for that now. And I think we’re all realizing how important those conversations really are.
But for tonight, I think I can breathe a little easier. There have been some incredibly hard times, without a doubt. If I’m honest I’m not sure where I’ll be at in another year. Or another 10 years for that matter. And if I’m honest, growing up I never thought I’d see 30 years. Or 40 for that matter. I might see 50, I might not – and I’m not trying to be morbid or morose. I guess it’s just the way my brain is wired. But thankfully, for tonight, I don’t need to worry about that. Because even though the sun set hours ago, and won’t rise again for several more hours, I can allow myself to smile, and to feel that glimmer of hope.
- New Years in 24 days
- Christmas Day in 17 days
- Winter Solstice in 13 days
Why? Because the longest night of the year marks the beginning of my sunrise.