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winter solstice: drawing of a white half circle on black paper symbolising the sun rising in the darkness. nine rays come out of this sun symbol

21st of December: Winter Solstice

Creating your own optimism during times of darkness

Earth is in an orbital position directly opposite the Summer solstice and now the astronomical circumstances are similar and at the same time reversed: The dark hours in the days are longest now but the rate of change in sunshine hours is smallest. As a result it feels like we may enjoy these dark days for a particularly long time, just like we did the bright days around the beginning of summer. And still I want to remind you that the Earth is anything but especially far away from the Sun.

While the 1st of November tends to bring a menlancholy mood, the current darkness feels calming and intimate to me. Mentally facing the transience of everything in nature reduces its terror and all around us we observe that what felt like death is not actually a real ending. My rhubarb plant is sleeping peacefully under a blanket of tree leaves and my shrubs have freed themselves of all ballast and can rest now. Like in summer there is not much for me to do in my garden now that everything is stowed away, tucked in or has in any other way been winterised.

For animals there are not many options to change their living conditions apart from hibernation or migration towards the opposite hemisphere. Their menu is meagre and depending on the latitude their only light is switched off early in the afternoon. Humans can do quite a lot to make this season really jolly. Even in less technology-heavy times people in some areas cut branches around the 4th of December to take them into their houses so they would blossom for Christmas. Even not especially religious people often put up evergreen trees in their living rooms for the season.

Yule as a holiday of light

The taming of fire meant that we could brigthen our nights at will and the Advent weeks are a particularly popular time for lighting candles, fireplaces, Advent wreaths and these days also electrical fairy lights. They make the darkness into a backdrop for warm mood lighting. Who would choose to hang fairy lights in their garden during summer? When the megalith monuments were erected, the days around the solstices offered the people of those times impressive drama. Nowadays the internet at least gives us the opportunity to get a tiny idea of the original spectacle from anywhere on Earth.

Personally, the days around the Winter Solstice are a very hopeful time for me. Not just the lights but the entire package of traditional and modern carols. The baking and spices, eating cookies and writing cards. Thinking of others is good for my own wellbeing and also noticing that they are thinking of me. Singing together creates a deep connection, even if in 2020 there were less chances of doing this in person. Even here peoples‘ creativity provided seasonal singing online (The link is in German but for the singing sessions you just have to go to the channel and start the live video and sing along.) Even though my family and I decided to not give each other any gifts anymore, the basic idea of giving presents is a lovely one.

Kitsch and consumerism

Obviously, all these traditions carry the potential of slipping into kitsch, consumerism and stress. Inflated expectations lead to some families fighting next to the Christmas tree twinkling cheerfully. There are challenges to be the last one to catch a perfomance of Last Christmas. Not surprisingly, many of us are sceptical towards the whole Christmas thing, to put it mildly.

And yet the cosiness, light and liveliness that we seem to conjure up while nature does not currently provide much of any of them, underlines how humans are capable of making their own hope. We can influence our own optimism based not on pipe dreams and wishful thinking but on natural laws. We can use the laws of biology and physics to make branches blossom and LEDs light up.

In the end, the Winter Solstice message is that the prospect of things turning around is real. The longest night is just one extreme point within our yearly orbit, just like the longest day. Listening to some seasonal music and nibbling ginger bread cookies by candlelight we can rely on the outside world getting brighter in time. Hope is not unfounded, which is why I especially look forward to the beginning of winter every year.

What about you?

How does Nature currently present itself where you live? How did you winterise your garden? What is your attitide towards the seasonal traditions of your area? What gives you hope and what based in reality can you do to increase your optimism for brighter days? Whom do you like to think of and which thoughtful present did you receive?

Meditation and looking forward to the wheel spinning onwards

I have uploaded a short meditation about looking at how you deal with darkness and being alone and how much of a gift the light returning is. You can find it here.

This post refers back to this main article and is part of a series on each of the eight holidays of the year. During 2020 I wrote a post for every one of those dates. Of course the cycle will carry on and I plan to add new things so stay tuned for the 2nd of February!

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