As for many childless-not-by-choice people, I often find Christmas celebrations particularly challenging. True, it no longer feels as emotionally overwhelming as it used to (although I still mutter ‘bah humbug’ curses under my breath when I see yet another department store’s ‘Meaning of Christmas’ TV advert!) Over the years I’ve moved along a path that has seen me develop strategies just to get through the festive season, create my own traditions (for example I buy tree decorations that I can associate with good memories so that ‘tree night’ is a celebration of the life I am living rather than the life I might have had), to finally being able to embrace much of what Christmas has to offer. But the shadow of grief is never far behind and I find it often falls at the most unexpected moments.
So, today – the winter solstice – is a key day in the year for me. Reaching the shortest, darkest day of the year and looking forward to the slow return of light to the northern hemisphere feels like something to celebrate. And in a way, it feels like a far more inclusive celebration than Christmas. Marking the arrival of the winter solstice is not just ‘for the children’, for those with children or for those of us lucky enough to afford all the trimmings of the festive season; it’s simply about taking time to notice the turn of the earth and celebrating all it means to be human. And being human means that sometimes we find ourselves struggling in the darkness, trying to find a way to channel some light towards us.
Whilst the winter solstice is all about time and the turn of the season, it is also offers us a window on timelessness – when we can allow everything we have been, all that we are and all we are yet to be, merge in one moment. It also reminds me that everything moves and, even if it is imperceptible, change happens. For me, today marks the arrival of promise. For our ancient ancestors it was probably the most important day in the calendar. Knowing when we have reached the darkest day means that we know we are moving back into light.
This morning I was looking for some season-appropriate poems to read at the creative writing group I run at a local community centre and I came across this lovely and moving poem by Naomi Shihab Nye and I thought I would share it with you.
Happy winter solstice to you all. We are standing on the cusp of new promise. All we need to do is to turn with the Earth.