Here in the northern hemisphere, we are closing in on the darkest day of the year. In my neck of the woods, the cold gray months are only beginning, and may last through April – but on the 21st, the sun will start returning to us (or, more objectively, we will start returning to the sun).
There are all sorts of mythological renditions of the sun’s yearly return. I admit my favorite is Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather, a book I adore and a film I watch every year. This story of deities adjusting to a changing world, of the importance of believing in things (like justice and perhaps Santa Claus) that exist only if we believe in them, is my favorite Christmas story.
And what of “the” Christmas story? The story I grew up with? Despite that I no longer practice Christianity, I still love this, too. It strikes me as the most hopeful, joyous story of the New Testament. The moment of birth is one of sheer potential. The image that speaks most emphatically to me is the simplest: A star in the darkness. Light that shows us hope. Light that shines at the start of (a) life.
For me now, this holiday is about light in the darkness, about hope in the face of winter’s long dark days, and the potential of the new year and the returning sun. At or near the solstice, we bring light and brightness and greens into our home. At the darkest time of year, we stage a holiday full of jollity and firelight and promise. We shake our fist at the long black night – not to provoke it or exert any influence whatsoever over the night itself, which was here long before we came onto the scene – but to show that we are still alive and hale and whole, though the snow is deep and the sunlight scarce. We gather together and feast and exchange gifts to show that we have put enough by and will share our goods and sustain each other while the plants that nourish us are resting as seed and roots. We bring greenery into our homes to remind ourselves of the scent of the forest and the sight of leaves, of all the growth that will take place as the days warm. And lo, we tilt toward the sun, the days lengthen, and – though there might yet be a long journey before spring – we find that we have, together, made it through the dark days. We find that our faith – in the wheel of the year, the return of light to the world – has carried us through.
For herbal support this time of the year, I recommend listening to “Joyful Herbs for Darker Days” by Guido Masé. You can also find written notes here, on his blog.