Sunday, December 21, 2014

Reflections on the solstice

Today is December 21st, the solstice, the shortest day of the year. Snow falls gently, sporadically, in large puffy flakes like milkweed down. My husband indulges in his new hobby, baking breads and nut rolls. The house smells like temptation. Tonight I will leave a candle burning to welcome the return of the light.

We've been wrapping presents, and as always we play our favorite music. A couple contemplative Winterludes; John Denver and the Muppets; The Nutcracker;  the now hard-to-find Three Ships. On Christmas Eve we'll dig out the two-decades-old tapes of our kids singing in their high school concert choir.

As I grow older, I find the bustle of the holidays less endearing. My children are grown, and I won't see my grandchildren until New Year's Eve. The early darkness and long nights weigh on my spirit. Many years have passed since I last accepted the beliefs I learned as a child. Perhaps I simply no longer have the energy to celebrate the way I once did.

Even with all that, I would not give up Christmas. Even though the solstice has come to have more meaning for me than the Nativity story, I still enjoy the traditions. The foods, the gift-giving, the sappy TV shows. I even enjoy the perennial debate over seasonal greetings--I'll gladly accept any good wishes anyone wishes to bestow upon me.

These days, it's the music that gets to me. I still laugh when Beaker sings his lines in "The Twelve Days of Christmas," and I'm touched by the simple sincerity of the songs. I get nostalgic listening to fifty teenagers sing "Adeste Fideles" in perfect a capella harmony. Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, whose ballet so perfectly captures the longing to hold onto ephemeral beauty, makes me weep. And when Jon Anderson blends his glorious soprano voice with a gospel choir in "O Holy Night"...

Well, with music like that, sometimes I wish I still believed.












14 comments:

  1. A lovely, poignant post. The winter solstice is also one of my favorite times of the year. I once had someone tell me that yes it is the shortest day, but it is also the longest night. A lit candle in tribute to the returning light is heartwarming. Yesterday, I listened to Celine Dion’s version of O Holy Night and it brought tears to my eyes. A truly amazing song about a truly amazing night. Wishing you all the best for you and your family and your writing in 2015. And, I wish I had one of those tempting nut rolls!

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    1. Thank you for your visit, Alisa. The return of the light is a powerful fact and metaphor, no matter how you choose to mark it.

      Sorry, the nut rolls are spoken for. They're mine, I tell, mine!

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  2. A lovely post; thank you for sharing. We must consider, without the dark of night, we could not perceive the coming of the light. Wishing you a blessed Solstice!

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    1. True, Laura. And without darkness, when would we find refreshment in sleep?

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  3. Yes, it changes. I still have teens at home, but a while ago I read a brilliant book called something like, Unplugging the Christmas Machine. I particularly enjoyed their [?] breakdown of how 'Christmas' has got out of hand, and how [more importantly] you can rein it in and make it meaningful again.

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    1. It's so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind, isn't it, Maddy? Making space for meaning is all that keeps me from being a Grinch.

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  4. A lovely, philosophical reflection, Nikki. Just what I need on a hectic pre-Christmas eve.

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  5. I'm so glad it touched you, Nancy.

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  6. An evocative post. Thank you, Nikki, and many blessings to you and yours during this holiday season. May the returning Light bring you love, peace, and joy!

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    1. And the same to you and yours, Ashantay.

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  7. There were years when the holiday caused me to eat bottles of Tums. I stressed about this and that, getting here and there, being practically perfect in every way, and then there was the single Christmas where both my dad and husband were fresh out of the hospital. The family picture that year was dire. I love the holidays and remember it's not about gifts and perfection, it's a state of mind. I have the photo from that one year if I need a reminder but so far I haven't had to look at it. I am not crazy about holiday music, possibly because my mom starts playing it right after Halloween, but I do love watching the cheesy holiday movies, old and new. Great post, Nikki.

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    1. You are so right about the state of mind, Brenda. You can't make merry if you make yourself crazy trying to meet everyone else's expectations. I'm reminded of the motto a very wise woman once told me: "I will not 'should' on myself.'" Hope you have a wonderful holiday!

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  8. The holidays bring both sweet and sad memories for me as well. But we are alive and have families past and present that are with us in mind and body. A true comfort.

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    1. You're so right, Jacqueline. I think the solstice metaphor serves us well here, too--the darkness may be long, but light always returns. Thanks for the reminder.

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