As our waking days get increasingly shorter and darker, our longing for transcendent light increases in tandem. We are nourished by the dark like the seed who knows to bed down in the dark earth to grow. And yet, even in our knowing of this need, there is always longing for the next season, for the next turn. As we wander into the last week of the darkest time of the year, our desire for light and the nourishment it provides expands with the shadows.
Solstice times hold needs in tension: requisite turn of the wheel of the year towards elements of the next season with what our body's inherently need for wholeness within the season we are in.
This day’s deepening darkness is traditionally met with the light and love of Lucia! Today is the Feast of Saint Lucia, or Saint Lucia’s Day, a Christian feast day celebrated on December 13 during Advent. She is a woman of deep symbology in this season: her red sash symbolizing her martyrdom, her white gown a symbol of a white baptismal robe, and her candle-lit wreath-crown shedding both light into the darkness as well as opening up both hands to carry as much food as possible to those in need. Saint Lucia’s Day once coincided with the Winter Solstice; however with the onset of calendar reforms, her feast day has become more likened to a Christian festival of light and one that signals the arrival of Christmastide and the arrival of the turn towards light.
Many years ago, I lived in Sweden, where this feast day is commonly celebrated. The long dark winter I experienced there introduced me to a kind of darkness I had never before known; this was the all-day dark, when twilight hues hang, draped over the day like a blanket attempting to warm against the northern wind that left ice in her wake. My grandfather migrated from Sweden, and while much of his life never was unpacked in America, there were pieces of that culture that came out during the holidays, like items from a curio cabinet. Along with lingonberry sauce and meatballs, there was a wooden figurine of Saint Lucia I remember fingering with quiet childhood curiosity. When I was able to experience the festival in Sweden that year, which consisted of girls and women dressed in robes of white, red ribbons flowing down their sides, baskets of cookies in hand, all aglow from the candle-lit wreath in their hair, it was pure magic.
There was a beautiful reverence in how humanity’s need for nourishment called forth such compassion, such light!
Tonight my daughter, who has longed to participate in this celebration, stated her courage to don the robe and sash, fill a basket with cookies, and take her candle light into the world. She left our home singing into the city night and knocked on neighbor’s doors, bringing the light of her self to the starry-night, to the sidewalk, to the stoop. And no matter the culture or creed, the light is what people respond to! In these dark days, in our corner of the world, people hibernate; it is not uncommon to not see a neighbor for months during the relentless winter cold and rain.
When the much-longed-for-light crosses our threshold to that of another, and a cookie is offered as a gift of nourishment and delight, symbols become activated.
The journey takes on real meaning. The metaphors become embodied. Tonight my daughter participated in a hundreds of year old tradition. There is deep wisdom in holding the tension of the season: the light only shines bright because of the dark, and the basket of cookies is all the sweeter as traditionally this time of year preserves were in ration. This becomes a posture of abundance when the season says the natural world has gone scarce.