My students are tired. They see the end of the semester like a beacon on some distant cliff shrouded in research papers and Scantron sheets. They drag themselves to class to confirm due dates and turn in crumpled re-writes and outlines, but their minds are elsewhere. And to be honest, I’m tired too. This time of year I get up in the dark and leave my office in the dark. December days are short in Wyoming – we get only eight hours of sunshine right now and the darkness will linger even longer over the next few weeks. Some days I am just going through the motions, looking for a space to hibernate and wait for the sun to return.
I began celebrating the Winter Solstice about 15 years ago. My mother decided we needed a new tradition, so we stood around a fire in the snow and burned our bad habits. We scrawled messages on scraps of paper and wood and tossed them into the flames. Our ranch house sat atop a hill miles from the street lights that often blot out a winter sky, so we could see Betelgeuse and Orion and the moon. That night was cold and black; the flames of the bonfire ate away pieces of the dark. The small circle of people around the fire was warm and bright too. Since I left the ranch over a decade ago, I have celebrated the Winter Solstice on two continents and on three coasts. I have burned all of my bad habits (mostly without consequence) and shared solstice soup with my closest friends. I look forward to the quiet ritual every year.
This week our mountains are snowy. I see my breath in the air as I run in the morning. Winter is here and the days are short, but over the weekend we ventured into the Bighorns anyway. We spent the day playing in the snow with dogs and friends. And we cut a Christmas tree. As we drug the tree out across the snow, the sun was already setting. By the time we loaded the car, it was dark.
Now when I get up in the early winter morning, I sit near an evergreen lit with white lights. I am still tired and the dark and cold of winter feels heavy, but the Solstice is coming. The days will get longer again and sun will return. We will finish the year and the semester, and we will begin again – with more light and more energy. – S
A Winter Solstice Prayer
by Edward Hays
The dark shadow of space leans over us
as we conclude this festival.
We are mindful that the darkness of greed,
of exploitation and hate
also lengthens its shadow
over our small planet Earth.
As our ancestors feared death and evil
And all the dark powers of winter,
We fear that the darkness of war,
Of discrimination and selfishness
May doom us and our planet to an eternal winter.
May we find hope
in the lights we have kindled on this sacred night,
hope in one another and in all who form the web-work
of peace and justice that spans the world.
In the heart of every person on this earth
burns the spark of luminous goodness;
in no heart is there total darkness.
May we who have celebrated this winter solstice,
by our lives and service, by our prayers and love,
call forth from one another the light and the love
that is hidden in every heart.