The Holy Days of December: From Darkness Into Light

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This morning, in an email from a dear friend, I found this:

Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world.

All things break. And all things can be mended.

Not with time, as they say, but with intention.

So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally.

The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.

 R. Knost

I recently attended an ecumenical discussion group that meets once a month. The participants usually include one or two Roman Catholic priests, a Unitarian minister, a rabbi, a Wiccan priestess, and an array of lay people, including a Muslim.  I am an Episcopalian.  The friend who brought me to the group is a Baptist preacher.  The topic for December was the month’s major religious holidays, those deep winter rituals celebrated in turn by Pagans, by Jews, and by Christians. The question on the table as the conversation started was simple: Do these very different holy days have anything at all in common or are we, as in so many other areas of our lives, hopelessly at odds?

 Christmas

star-of-bethlehem-stood-where-the-baby-was Hanukkah

1452750  Winter Solstice.

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It was a rich conversation among people  committed to their religious traditions and genuinely interested in knowing more about those of others.  There was an unspoken consensus in the group that, in one way or another, all roads lead to God.

So we ate a comfortable lunch of homemade lasagna, salad, and bread, and talked about some of those roads.

A recent NYTimes article, “Solstice Serenades in New York City for ‘Make Music Winter’,”
ends with,
“A gratis celebration for and by the public, democratic and international in execution and scope, couldn’t help but stir up a sense of camaraderie and admit — on the shortest day of the year, after months of political tension and dissension — a few hopeful, harmonious rays of light.”

The Winter Solstice: December 21 2016
Hanukkah:  From evening December 24 to evening January 1
Christmas,  December 25

In Judaism Hanukkah is an eight-day, wintertime “festival of lights.” In the second century BCE, a small group of Jews drove theGreek Seleucids from Jerusalem and rededicated the temple.When they sought to light the Temple’s menorah, they found only a single container of olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks. Miraculously, they lit the menorah and the one-day supply of oil lasted for eight days. At the heart of the festival of Hanukkah is the nightly lighting of the menorah. The menorah holds nine flames, one of which is the shamash (“attendant”), which is used to kindle the other eight lights.

In the culture in which we live, Christmas is almost certainly the December celebration that is most familiar. Regardless of our beliefs, we hear Christmas music for at least a month before December 25, the date on which Christians all over the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Most scholars of religion believe that the date of the birth of the “true light of the world” was set to coincide with the December solstice because from that point onwards, the days begin to have more daylight in the Northern Hemisphere.

The Winter or December Solstice is by far the most ancient of these December events. Part of a culture that depended on planting and harvest, the Winter Solstice is an astronomical event at the juncture of the shortest day and the longest night of the year. As the world emerges from the darkness, cold, and infertility of winter, the Winter Solstice marks the “turning of the sun.”  Celebrations of this return of the light, and all that comes with it, cross cultures and time.

“The Feast of Juul was a festival observed in Scandinavia at the time of the December solstice. Fires were lit to symbolize the heat, light and life-giving properties of the returning sun. A Yule or Juul log was brought in and burned on the hearth in honor of the Scandinavian god Thor.

A piece of the log was kept as both a token of good luck and as kindling for the following year’s log. In England, Germany, France and other European countries, the Yule log was burned until nothing but ash remained. The ashes were then collected and either strewn on the fields as fertilizer every night until Twelfth Night or kept as a charm and or as medicine.”

The coming of the light out of darkness.

We are not unique.

We are not alone.

A few years ago I had a blog called “Aging and Depression: From Darkness Into Light.” It was a time in my life when I had begun to believe there would be no more light and that blog served as one of my few connections to the world outside my depression.  It was a journal, read by only a few friends and relatives but read nonetheless.  I hadn’t thought about that blog for a long time until I started thinking about what I wanted to write today, about all the traditions that come together to bring us to this cold, dark month in which so many of us find reason to rejoice.  And I remembered that my first step out of that personal darkness was a terrible fall.  Following that were a hospital, a physical rehab unit, and an assisted living facility where I was the youngest resident by nearly twenty years.  And then came a Bible study that I led, a dozen courageous women, a community of trust and love, a 1928 co-op where the light streams through old casement windows, a book about that facility and those women, and a brightness of light and life, my grandson.

Out of darkness into light.  When my grandson was born on April 23 2015, I sent the first photograph of him to that Baptist preacher.  He responded, “It happens every day, all the time, and it is always a miracle.”

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5 Responses to "The Holy Days of December: From Darkness Into Light"
  1. Jane Riley says:

    An encouraging message. The history is interesting. Wish for the coming light to bring us al together.

  2. COLLEEN BATES LANCE says:

    I always marvel at the images you create with words and how you can tie disparate ti concepts together. Another beautiful piece

  3. Mitzy says:

    I do trust your wisdom.

  4. So glad you have come out of that depression! I suffered from periodic depressions for many years, but have not been depressed for about two decades, now. Hope you have a wonderful and productive New Year!

  5. Kasey Brady says:

    My dear friend. As I read your words I hear your voice. I’ve missed you.

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