‘Tis the holidays, and the end of the academic term. One must get past the end of the semester before settling into, abet briefly, the season of darkness and lights. This afternoon darkness fell by 4:30.
This is, in Christian influenced countries, a time of anticipation. Advent is both a period of waiting for the birth of Jesus, and for the return of the sun. It presages the long, anxious wait for spring.
Here in Vermont, we are still awaiting snow. The absence of cold and snow is unsettling, as our ecosystems and cultures rely on them to maintain balance and harmony. Here, winter is a way of life, dreaded and embraced in turn.
It seems everywhere we go the topic of weather, or, rather, the absence of weather is dominant, trumping all else. One catches snippets of conversations at church, concerts, or simply shopping. There is a worried buzz about the prolonged warmth, a tense concern about what this might mean. Even those who profess a preference for warmth seem increasingly concerned.
There is another concern: the second half of El Nino winters can be very harsh, the snow returning via a seemingly endless series of major storms. There may also be a heightened incidence of ice storms, events which can overwhelm our usual meteorological nonchalance, as everything skids to a halt, sometimes for several days.
But for now, the warmth persists, lights appear on lawns, houses, and in windows, and people gather to wish one another well at the holidays. Our tree has been up for a week and is mostly decorated, and our windows and porch are ablaze in light. We’ve finished most of our holiday shopping, and yesterday afternoon we lit the first Hanukkah candle with our granddaughter, as she wanted to celebrate with us before going home. Tonight we will light two.
Last evening we attended a carol sing, and I was reminded that as I age, I find less pleasure in many of the standard carols. I struggle with references to lords and kings, an emphasis on power and dominance, and a clear preference for boy children over girls. Increasingly, many of the old carols seem far removed from my world. Yet, there are still carols, mostly ones less well known, that touch me deeply, and for them I remain grateful.
So we slowly match our pace to the midwinter holidays. For the moment this means we focus on the many work related tasks that must be completed before we can truly settle into the early darkness, socializing, and the rich stories that mark the passage of the old year in the northern latitudes.
What do you hold dear at this sacred time, and what rituals and practices aid you in settling into the deep dreaming?