This time of year I notice myself more contemplative, more interested in quiet time, more willing to probe deeper and persistently into the mysterious of life. The approaching Winter Solstice is always a reminder for me about the inherent cyclical passing of time, and the importance of having an opportunity to reflect on and incorporate all those experiences and lessons learned during the past 11 months. Every year I find myself asking-so what is that we’re celebrating over the holidays? What is the spirit and deeper meaning of Christmas?
Amidst the materialism and grade-school Christmas pageants-there’s an ancient and lasting connection between human beings and the tangible changing of the seasons. Throughout the ages our ancestors celebrated the return of the light around the Winter Solstice- also known as Yule, Alban, Arthuan, and Midwinter. All around the northern hemisphere-Midwinter is the shortest day of the year and the longest night. It is a time to honour the power of darkness and celebrate the Divine mother-the sacred womb of creation, who gives birth once again to the Sun. Jesus is the most recent incarnation of a line of ancient Solar Saviours celebrated on December 25th. Some of these include: The Egyptian Osiris; the Syrian Baal; the Greek Attis and Helios; the Norse Baldar and Frey; and the Japanese Solar Goddess Amaterasu; . And of course there’s the ancient Roman tradition of December 25th: Dies Natalis Solis Invivtus-the Day of the Birth of the Undefeated Sun. All of these traditions and incarnations were given similar titles: the Light of the World; Sun of Righteousness; and Saviour. And they all symbolically represented the return of the light to a dark world.
Throughout the world our ancestors developed precise systems to monitor and mark the return of the light. Perhaps the most well-known are Stonehenge in Britain and Newgrange in Ireland. The primary axes of both of these stone monuments are carefully aligned to sunrise (Newgrange) and sunset (Stonehenge) on winter solstice. In fact the Great Trilithon at Stonehenge stands outwards from the centre of the monument with its smooth flat face turned towards the midwinter Sun. Then there is the Intihuatana Stone, or “Hitching Post of the Sun” at Machu Picchu in Peru. The stone precisely predicted the date of the solstice, when Incan priests would ceremonially hitch the sun to the stone and stop it from swinging too far on either side of light or darkness.
It really comes as no surprise that today we continue this tradition of celebrating the return of the light. Like our ancient ancestors we eat, drink and engage in all sorts of merry-making, Todays Christmas celebration is a pure melange of ancient and modern, Pagan, Zoroastrian, Jewish, Mithraic and Christian traditions. It’s a time to reflect on our personal transformations but also to remember that it is the light that connects us all in a pure and magical way-regardless of religious leanings and spiritual inclinations.
It’s been an amazing whirlwind year of new beginnings, places and people for me: a great new job; selling my first house; marrying the love of my life; and witnessing the incredible birth of my beautiful boy. I’m inspired by the emerging global conversations around the power of love and light as a positive response to the darkness of our world-gone-mad. Achieving a balance of light and dark is an ancient and ongoing metaphor that reflects our continuing struggle to find meaning and connection within ourselves, within our families and communities, and more increasingly across the technologically-enhanced digital rhizome. So happy holidays to you. And may this season fill you with the light of of joy, love, and optimism.
Source: Nigel Pennick. 1992. “The Pagan Book of Days.” Destiny Books.