Today is Winter Solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year here in the Northern Hemisphere. For me, the day when Earth’s tilted rotation brings the sun to its farthest south arc across the sky marks the year’s turning point.
After today, the sun “turns around” on its southward journey, and moves north again. The days grow ever-so-gradually longer and our hemisphere wobbles back toward light and spring.
It is a time for celebration, time to light the darkness, to feel the emotional and psychological lift of knowing that we’ve passed through the darkest times.
I’ve marked Winter Solstice by lighting candles all my life. After Richard, Molly and I moved to southern New Mexico, we adopted the custom of lighting luminarias, small votive candles nestled in sand on paper bags that symbolize lighting the way for the Holy Family on Christmas Eve.
For me, those luminarias also represented the solstice, each tiny candle glowing through the darkness to herald the our hemisphere’s return to light and warmth.
When we moved to Salida, we brought the luminaria tradition with us, and shifted it to Winter Solstice. When Richard was alive and we lived in Terraphilia, the house he built for us, we made a celebration of Winter Solstice every year, inviting friends and family to help us line our half-block with luminarias, followed by an open house highlighted by my Sinful Solstice Eggnog and other treats.
Richard loved a party, the bigger the better, and circulated through the crowd talking and laughing. I loved his joy and the idea of the celebration with its metaphor of lighting the darkness, both with the tiny candles in their paper bags, and the gathering of our community.
Molly and I held Richard’s memorial service on the weekend closest to Winter Solstice. With his favorite celebration in mind, we invited everyone to write on a luminaria bag, fill it with sand and a candle, and place it near “Matriculation,” his sculpture in the Salida Steamplant Sculpture Park. Those flickering candles lit the night for his journey.
I thought that after I got through the hectic years of doing the finish work on Terraphilia, selling the house and his historic studio, and then building my little place, I would revive the tradition of that Winter Solstice “Light the Darkness” party.
Last Winter Solstice, I was living in my new little place, Creek House, but only on a provisional occupancy permit; I had no front entry deck and thus couldn’t hold an open house. So I made and distributed jars of eggnog, and put out a few luminarias.
This year, I knew I couldn’t throw the party. Maybe it’s being deep in this revision to Bless the Birds, the memoir I’m writing about how Richard and I came to be the sort of people who could walk his journey through brain cancer with love.
Or maybe it’s just that I’m realizing who I am without the love of my life to be my front man. I’m an introvert: I love people. In small groups. A few at a time, with quiet in between.
So I’m beginning my own “Light the Darkness” tradition: I made 2.5 gallons of Sinful Solstice Eggnog (recipe in the next post) and spent a happy afternoon as “Eggnog Elf” giving decorated jars to friends.
And in a few minutes, I will go outside in to the chill air that smells like snow, and light the luminarias I placed on the Creek house front deck and steps, and the second-story deck at Treehouse, my garage and studio.
As this shortest day of the year deepens into the longest night, and my solar-calendar cycles around, Richard’s spirit will be with me. Love lasts.
Blessed Winter Solstice to all! May you find the light you need to carry you through the darkness.