Ah the festive season! Some say we love it or hate it. Does it need to be so black and white though? In nature, it seems that this time of year is about both dark and light together.
Christmas is a time when genuine lightness, joy and celebration are in the air – a sense of coming closer, cosying up, sharing, laughing and playing games. This feels precious in a culture where we give so much importance to how much we’ve achieved, how productive we are, or how ‘busy’ we’ve been. We tend to protect little time for this vital human need for lightness, joy and connection.
But Christmas is also a time of heightened tensions and expectations – putting many under pressure to feel light, joyful, loving and peaceful – just because it’s Christmas. This reality can feel bitter sweet because many of us don’t feel this way. Family tensions are heightened. Consumerism feels uncomfortably out of control. We feel the pain of missed loved ones. We feel lonely. We highlight the perceived lacks in our lives – as things have seemingly changed – or not – since last Christmas. We simply just don’t feel what we’re made to believe we ‘should’ feel at this time of year. This is the perfect recipe for unhappiness; there’s no right or wrong way to feel at any time of year, and it’s no different at Christmas.
So it’s clear that the festive season is an ambiguous time. But whether we love it or hate it, what might be the value of this time of year?
In nature’s calendar, it’s all about the traditional celebration of the Winter Solstice on December 21st. This is the shortest and darkest day of the year and the rebirth of light – with days lengthening from then onwards into spring again.
The Solstice is a traditional time of coming together for winter feasts and exchange of gifts around fires and lights to celebrate the return of the sun. Sol Invictus (The Invincible Sun), adopted as the chief god of the Roman Empire under Emperor Aurelian, is traditionally celebrated on December 25th, as are several gods associated with the winter solstice in pagan traditions. It’s suggested this may be why Christmas was set close to the solstice too.
It’s also when many plants are dormant and animals fatten up and hibernate – all trusting in some inner knowing of the return of life and light to come. Winter is thus a natural time for rest for all living things.
So how can we honour the natural rhythms of this time of year?
The dark winter days can be an invitation for resting, introspection, intimacy with ourselves, quiet reflection and digestion of this years’ experiences. And doesn’t this feel natural and innate, as most of us prefer to stay home and be a little more still than at other times of year? What if we honoured this yearning within us with trust, instead of striving to override it?
Being with darkness is uncomfortable but also vital. We’re all born in the dark. Seeds are planted in the dark. We need the dark to sleep & to dream and it’s often in darkness that transformation happens.
And alongside the darker aspects of the season, we’re also called to celebrate the light, with the return of longer days. Traditionally, we light candles, fairy lights, fires and have more time to wonder at the night sky. This is another innate human ability – to receive light which can feel all the more magical when contrasted with deep darkness. Isn’t there a natural mysterious twinkle about the winter?
So Nature reveals to us that there’s always light in the dark and dark in the light. They enable the existence of each other. And so perhaps our approach to this time of year doesn’t need to be so black and white?
The thing is, what often happens when we find ourselves in darkness is that we close up to the light. We stop noticing it. But the light is always there – however flickering and distant it may seem, if we’re open to receiving it.
So here’s my invitation to you this Christmas. ..
Whatever the season brings, be kind to yourself; there’s no right way to feel despite all the pressures. But however you’re feeling at this solstice time of darkness, see if you can remain open as often as possible to moments of joy, light and warmth – however small they may be. This isn’t about forcing anything – but about being receptive to what we’re experiencing. The easiest way to explore this is to notice any physical sense of opening, of lightness, of relaxation in the body in moments throughout the festive time. Another way is to be a source of joy, lightness and warmth for others, in whatever way that feels possible.
What brings you glimmers of lightness and joy this Christmas? I’d love to hear your comments below.
Meanwhile, I wish you all a joyful, light and warm Winter Solstice and Christmas time wherever you are – whether you’re spending it alone, with friends or with family. Take care of yourselves and each other.
I’d also like to take this chance to thank you all for reading my posts and sharing your comments with me throughout 2019.
Warm winter wishes and see you next year!