Lunar Eclipse on the night of Winter Solstice
photo: Ben Canant
Christmas comes in the heart of Winter Solstice, the time of year that darkness is longest, and day is shortest. Throughout history, people have celebrated this time. The Romans, Ancient Greeks, Jews, Incans, Native Americans all had rituals marking this darkest time of year. Many religions marked this night by lighting candles, evoking hope on the darkest of days. Eventually Christian sects began to adopt this time to celebrate the birth of Christ.
There is something about the snow that blankets us in a hush, and darkness that forces us to go within and huddle close together, that brings out our inner light. From the beginning of time we have been celebrating – no matter how dark the night, how dark the day, there is something in us that can not be extinguished. Something we all recognize as good, and bright and thriving. Hope becomes our communal heartbeat, the one thing that connects us all over the world.
As a kid growing up in a very uncertain, unbalanced household, December was one thing I could count on. It was the time of year my family would pull it together and we were at our very best. We acted like a real family. December brought not only Christmas, but my birthday. No matter how dysfunctional the rest of our lives were, my mother always gave us birthday parties- even if they were humble. One year I had a few friends over for Thanksgiving leftovers and a sleepover, and to me, that was grand. It was a time that I was honored, a time I felt I mattered. And Christmas, no matter how broke we were, was always an event. My mother wrapped presents like a professional. There was always glitz and huge bows. Even if what was inside was only a pair of socks, it was the most exciting presentation of socks you ever saw.
My heart swelled with hope in December. Maybe we’d take a day trip to play in the snow. Maybe my family would put aside their grievances and get together to tell stories and laugh. Maybe people would be just a little bit kinder to one another, even if only for those few weeks. Suddenly the atmosphere changed, and it seemed anything was possible.
I loved the rituals, the religious songs and prayers, even though I grew up in a family who only set foot inside a church for a wedding or funeral. I held fast to those rituals, held the meaning of those songs close to my heart, because to me, they were the embodiment of everything I wanted to believe in.
I’ve noticed in the last eight years that my Christmas spirit has waned. My husband has tried valiantly to restore it, stringing the house with twinkly lights, wearing a santa hat all month long. And I try – I make gingerbread houses, bake cookies, listen to my Christmas music, but something had switched off inside me and I couldn’t get it back. At first I thought it was because my kids had become sullen teenagers who barely cracked a smile over my fabulous Christmas morning reveals. Maybe it was because we no longer had the fun of shopping at Toys R Us, since they now preferred clothes and electronics. But then I had Evan, and now baby Ayumu. Toys and Santa and magic prevail once again. Christmas is all about children, fabulous Christmas morning reveals were back, so where was my spirit?
Just last week, upon much deep contemplation, I realized where I lost it. Eight years ago, there was a fracture with my family (mother’s side) that created a chasm so wide I knew it could never be healed. There was no longer hope for us, not even at Christmas. I had always carried even the faintest flicker in my heart that maybe one day we’d all be okay, but it has long since been extinguished. Something in me quietly shattered, without my even knowing it. When I realized this, I wondered if it was possible to still feel hope in my heart for anything. But I’m not giving up.
What I’ve concluded is this: You can’t hold hope for something that is long gone. Hope belongs to the future. What I can feel hopeful about is that a cycle of madness stopped with me, and will not be passed down to my children nor future generations. There is great hope for my children and grandchildren to live a life that is expressive and open-hearted, free of family secrets and shame.
My house is now full with family and little ones, sparkling and twinkling with Christmas lights, fresh baked cookies on the stove, the smell of pine wafting through. We made it through a really ugly chapter, and we’re still here. Yes, Virginia, there is hope. It lives on. Reclaim it.
Last night was marked by a full lunar eclipse, the first one to occur on the Winter Solstice since the 1600s. Not only was it the darkest day, but also the darkest night. If it’s true that it’s always darkest before the dawn, then surely last night marked a new beginning.
Now that is something to truly feel hopeful about.
*A song Troy and I wrote about hope - "Northern Star"