Winter Solstice sunset_S02049

Winter Solstice. The words sparkle like starlight reflecting off snow. They whisper of  the chill of dusk that falls heavily into long night. They hold the glow of windows warmed by firelight and candles, opaque with the steam of hot soup and rich cocoa.  It is year’s most mysterious night, when the sun abandons an entire hemisphere and Winter stakes her claim in the frigid void. For thousands of years humankind has sought to chase away the demons of ice and darkness by creating legends and rituals of light: Yule, Saturnalia, Yalda – traditions predating Christianity which celebrate the inexorable march of the seasons.

From the depths of winter’s darkness rises the promise of light – this is the great beauty of Solstice. It is a beginning. Each day Winter slips in a moment more of light, as slowly and stealthily as an icicle melting in a minute of January sunshine. But the moments build. Suddenly, about the time you are tying a bow on a box of chocolates for your Valentine, you realize that skies which once dimmed at 4 are still streaked with sunset at 5:30.

I vow this year to relish the dark, to delight in the cold, to embrace a season that is as fleeting as Spring. It is the time of year when I can read a novel in an afternoon, curled on the sofa, safe from the descending dark and rain and free from the distractions of sunlight and warmth. The projects I’ve put off all year suddenly become the only things I want to do- the scrapbooks, the correspondence, practicing the guitar, the all-day cooking sessions, thumbing through my old Italian textbooks, trying to see all the Best Picture Oscar nominees before the March ceremony. Inside things that should be done only when the weather outside is frightful.

Our Christmas tree is brightly lit and festooned with memories in shapes of snowmen, St. Nicholas, reindeer, and shimmering globes, and it lifts my heart when it glows solitary in the darkened room. I have always been anxious to dismantle the tree as soon as the clutter of holiday gifts has been cleared; this year I will leave it to lighten our spirits into the New Year.

I will celebrate this turning point from darkness to light, but promise not to turn so quickly toward Spring that I miss the beauty and mystery shimmering just inside Winter’s gloom.