I have been thinking a lot about the upcoming winter solstice.
On the one hand, solstice is the turning point – the darkest night before the days begin to lengthen again. It’s the first pinprick of light, the glimpse of the end of the tunnel. But then again, winter is really only just beginning. The long days and nights of cold and wet and gloom are just getting started and it will be a good three months (or more) before we start to feel the breath of spring.
If that isn’t a metaphor for the world right now, I’m not sure what is. Here was are, looking forward with hopeful expectation – to a new presidency, to the coming coronavirus vaccine, to just shutting the door on this wretched year. There is much to look forward to.
But we’re not there yet.
COVID is ravaging our nation and our community, with the numbers each day worse than the last. 300,000 dead, millions sick. The transfer of power, while legally assured, will still be messy and contentious. There are a lot of miserable days ahead before we actually see the light.
Even as we celebrate the turn towards the light, we’re preparing ourselves for the reality of winter. I’ve been ordering snow boots and looking up crockpot recipes and stockpiling puzzles and books for the long, lonely months to come.
Solstice isn’t an occasion that I always pay attention to. Frankly, it tends to get lost in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. I’m pretty sure that last year on the solstice, I was ferrying my aspiring thespian to play practice. We may or may not have eaten dinner in the car en route.
I do have one friend who leans into the solstice in a beautiful way and I’ve spend a couple happy winter evenings ensconced in her living room with an assortment of friends and acquaintances. Music is the rule of the day at her house, so those who can bring an instrument and everyone else enjoys and listens and sings along when they know the words. There’s always food and drinks and candlelight. It’s warm and cozy and beautiful.
And completely out of the question in 2020.
So this year, as part of my family’s larger commitment to intentional holidays, I decided we should celebrate the solstice. I’ve been talking it up to the kids, so they’re looking forward to it. Nothing big and flashy. The game plan is to make soup for dinner and eat by candlelight. Then crank up the fire and play board games while drinking hot chocolate. I may get a little swanky and create a hot chocolate “board” – which is like a charcuterie board, but with marshmallows and peppermint sticks instead of cheese wedges and cured meats.
We’re leaning into the light, even as we mourn the darkness around us.
I guess that could describe the entire season of Advent, too. It’s about waiting and expectation and perseverance. There is joy ahead, for sure, but first the weary journey, the closed doors, the humble stable. It is in the darkness that the light shines brightest.