Tonight is the second night of Hanukkah AND the solstice - I am hosting "Pagan Hanukkah" - lots of candles, blessings, a few latkes and a menorah too. Many blessings to each of you. I hope you enjoy this story:
From an article written by Beth Botts in the Chicago Tribune a few years ago titled, “Out of Darkness, Rebirth.”
OUT of DARKNESS, REBIRTH
The darkest day is the birthday of hope: For many thousands of years, that is what the winter solstice has meant to people all over the world; the shortest day of the year, when night had its greatest dominion. But it also is the day that light begins to grow. And from ancient times -- in imperial Persia and prehistoric Ireland, in Peru and China, in Scandinavia and Rome -- it has provided powerful metaphors of survival and rebirth to help us face the apparent death of the natural world and look on to the season of new growth to come. Many of the customs we associate with Christmas have their roots in pagan winter solstice celebrations from northern Europe, where the longest darkness and deepest cold brought the greatest fear. Thousands of years ago in pre-Christian Scandinavia, a giant oak log was burned to symbolize strength and endurance, as the household gathered around the fire in the face of darkness. That image of the fire on the hearth still is central to our idea of Christmas. Traditionally the log that celebrated Yule -- a name probably derived from an old word for wheel, as the wheel of the year turned -- was big enough to light 12 days of feasting. A fragment would be saved to light next year`s log, symbolizing continuity and rebirth. In Celtic myth, the winter solstice was the time that the Oak King -- who had grown weaker through the fall, just as his sacred trees lost their leaves -- revived to do battle with his evergreen twin, the Holly King. Holly long has been associated with European midwinter celebrations, because it remains green and holds it berries at a time when so much of the forest is gray or brown and seems dead. Later, as a new metaphor arose for light and rebirth, the holly`s berries, like those of mistletoe, came to be associated with the blood of Christ. Evergreens, with their apparent ability to defy winter`s death, long have been sacred in Northern European traditions. At the solstice, evergreens were decorated with offerings to beckon the return of the growing year. After the Middle Ages, the custom began to move indoors, and it entered American tradition after the German-born Prince Albert introduced the Christmas tree to England in 1841. All these customs speak to what the old pagans saw -- the forest dying, the world darkening and closing in and threatening their lives with its deadly cold -- and what they deeply hoped: That underneath it all, the world was still alive. Of course it is. The yews in the front yard may still have red berries, if the birds haven`t gotten them. Cones at the top of pines are ready to fall and drop seeds. Many plants -- such as lilacs -- already have formed the buds of next year`s flowers, bundled up and waiting to bloom. The dead-looking trees that dropped their leaves were merely conserving energy and moisture as they hunkered down to nap. The compost pile may not be cooking, but the busy little microbes are still there, waiting for warmer days. The ground may be frozen at the surface, but a few inches down, roots still are alive and bulbs already hold next year`s tulips and lilies. Many animals are hibernating. But others will be awake all winter, scurrying under the snow or visiting the bird feeder. Unlike ancient pagans, we have science to tell us that the solstice is simply the day when the Earth`s axis tips us farthest from the sun, so the sun appears lowest and weakest in the sky and has the shortest arc. As the Earth tips back, the days will inevitably grow longer. Knowing is one thing. Real comfort comes when we deck our houses with evergreens, light fires and candles, feast with our families to banish cold and dark, sing songs, worship together and tell sacred stories of hope and rebirth. But we can also seize a couple of those fleeting hours of midwinter sunlight to take a walk. Catch the glisten of a berry or the flicker of a bird. Look for the subtle swelling of a bud. Spot the tracks of a field mouse. Remember where we planted the crocuses. Scatter, perhaps, a few seeds of some sturdy native wildflower on the snow, which may float them down to the ground as it melts and keep them moist to germinate in the spring. There is no finer promise of better days to come. Let us find peace in the ancient promise of better days to come.
Peace and joy to everyone. There is more to come.....