Definition: a furthest or culminating point; a turning point
It comes every year. The nights grow longer. The cold deepens. Life slows down. People stay indoors, emotions run high, and tempers run short. A time of high expectations, lofty expectations, and jam-packed schedules. Apart from a few rare exceptions, everyone’s focus is on one day. Depending on the person, that day has significant religious significance. Or it is about family and loved ones. About giving and generosity. About giving (and receiving) gifts. So much is tied to that one day – so much anticipation, yet it’s almost impossible for that 24 hour period to consistently hold up to the expectations people hang on it. Perhaps part of it is a hope to recapture some long-lost childhood magic. A chance to be with friends or family that doesn’t seem to happen during the rest of the year.
For others, that same day is painful, for a variety of reasons. Maybe a loved one is no longer alive to celebrate with. Maybe it’s a reminder of strained relationships, ones that may be beyond reconciliation. Maybe that childhood wasn’t so magical, and that one day is just an annual reminder of that fact. Maybe it’s just a simple reminder of financial hardship, and the pressure to give gifts and go to celebrations, possibly baking or cooking along with it, is just another reminder of how little they have – which is magnified against the rampant consumerism that this single day spawns
Christmas. Christian tradition holds that Jesus Christ was born on that day – although historians agree that was very likely not the case. For some, that is the man reason for celebration. For others, it’s about giving and sharing gifts, making memories, and spending time with loved ones.
Every year I find Christmas day to be difficult, for a variety of reasons. From a distant – and admittedly cynical – viewpoint, I see it as a recipe for disappointment. Year after year I watch as people rush and buy and spend and attend and bake and cook and socialize… hoping to find something, some connection, some thing or feeling to make them feel vaguely human – and ever year Christmas day blasts past, and a few days later they’re feeling overwhelmed, overtired from all the busyness, and depressed on top of it, because yet again they overspent – despite promising themselves they wouldn’t let that happen again this year and they still don’tt feel like they got to see all the people they wanted to, or attend all the events they felt they should have. That’s not to say I hate Christmas – I just hate seeing what it’s become, and what people do (or think they’re expected to do) in order to “be in the spirit of Christmas” – whatever that may mean.
Personally, I find I anticipate a different day almost as much as Christmas – some years even more so. Most people hardly notice it, despite it being marked on many calendars. They don’t notice, because they’re so focused on Christmas. And to be honest, I can’t really blame them. Christmas can be a wonderful time of year. However, the one day I spend months looking forward to is Solstice – specifically Winter solstice. According to my photography app, today is the shortest day of the year. 8 hours and 8 minutes of daylight, nearly 16 hours of darkness. Typically the winter solstice marks the onslaught of the coldest part of the winter months. Andrew, why on earth are you happy about the shortest day and the incoming harsh cold weather???? Quite simple, actually – something that most people grasp subconsciously but don’t quite connect the dots on a more cognitive level. It’s always darkest before the dawn is one common saying. And if today is the longest night of the year – that means tomorrow night will be slightly shorter. It might only be by a minute or 2 – but it’s the shift towards longer days again.
Winter solstice is the annual equivalent of a sunrise. If you’re up early enough to watch an entire sunrise, you know it’s not just flipping a switch. It’s an event. The blackest night slowly gives way to subtle violets and blues on the horizon. Slowly, those shift to more vivid oranges and yellows, accompanied by various birds breaking into song. Finally, the sun breaks over the horizon, and light floods through, pushing away the blackness, and bringing much-welcomed warmth after the chill of night.
Winter solstice is my sunrise. I know there are plenty of long cold nights ahead. I know that there are days coming where the cold isn’t just in the air… it’s in my bones, and it’s in my mind. But I also know that for the next 180 days or so, the days will continue to lengthen. And if previous years are any indication, sometimes that hope and anticipation of a few more minutes or hours of daylight is the only thing that keeps me going.
But tonight is something a little deeper. A little more meaningful. A little more profound. 10 days from now, many will be celebrating the beginning of not just a new year, but a whole new decade. For some they can’t wait to step into the new year and new decade, because they can’t wait to leave the last one behind. I haven’t begun to reflect on the past year, nevermind the past 10. There have been some incredibly hard times, without a doubt. Many times I didn’t anticipate seeing the next year or the next decade for that matter. But I know there have been some awesome times as well. If I’m honest I’m not sure where I’ll be at in another year. Or another 10 years for that matter. And if I’m honest, growing up I never thought I’d see 30 years. Or 40 for that matter. I might see 50, I might not – and I’m not trying to be morbid or morose. I guess it’s just the way my brain is wired. But thankfully, for tonight, I don’t need to worry about that. Because even though the sun set hours ago, and won’t rise again for several more hours, I can allow myself to smile, and to feel that glimmer of hope. Why?
Because the longest night of the year marks the beginning of my sunrise.