This year, the solstice is today, December 21, and marks the start of Yule; Hanukkah starts on December 24, Christmas is December 25 and Kwanzaa starts December 26.
The solstice is typically December 21 or 22, but since 1900, Hanukkah has coincided with Christmas Eve or Christmas Day only 7 other times and with Kwanzaa only 4 times.
I find significance and hope in this. Whichever winter holidays you celebrate, we all celebrate the return of light out of a time of darkness.
Even though winter starts today in the northern hemisphere, from this day forward, every day will be a little longer. The sun will rise a few minutes earlier and set a few minutes later each day.
The solstice marks a turning point. The changes brought by a few minutes a day might be masked by winter’s gloomy weather, but they are happening. Just those few minutes more sunlight each day will transform winter to spring.
A few minutes more each day could transform your writing, too.
Today, on the Solstice, everything turns around. Today, on the Solstice, consider what you want to turn around in your writing life… your family… your community… your world.
Light requires dark. We find significant gifts in darkness, writers especially. In dark times, art matters most.
Just as seeds sprout in the darkness underground, creative insight requires a time of not knowing and wandering lost in the dark. You can’t become enlightened if you haven’t traveled through darkness.
You can’t write satisfying prose if your characters don’t face the darkness in the world and within themselves. I’m not an expert on poetry and certainly not all poetry is about light and dark, but I believe this light-dark type of contrast is central and significant.
Solstice is my favorite winter holiday. Let me share this Cherokee creation story to show you why.
“Grandmother Spider Brings the Light”
In the long ago when the world was new, all the animal people lived in darkness.
One day Fox had a dream of a Lake of Light far to the east. The Light was so beautiful, Fox said he would try to bring it to the People. Fox ran in the darkness as fast as he could. When he came to the Lake of Light at last, it was even more beautiful than he dreamed.
Fox jumped into the lake to grab a mouthful of Light to carry home, but the Light was hot! It burned Fox’s muzzle and feet black and turned the rest of his fur bright red, except the very tip of his tail, which stayed white. Fox still carries those colors in honor of trying to carry the Light.
Fox limped home, wounded and burned. But he had seen the Light and told everyone how glorious it was. Fox inspired Buzzard who offered to bring the Light and flew as fast as he could to the East.
When Buzzard saw the Lake of Light, he tried to carry a ball of Light home in his fine top feathers. But the Light was so hot, it burned all the feathers off of Buzzard’s head, and he’s bald to this very day.
One by one, all the animal warriors bravely journeyed through the dark to the east. And one by one, they all came home wounded and still in the dark.
“Maybe what we should learn from this is that we are not meant to have the Light,” one warrior said. “Maybe we are meant to live in darkness and be content.”
“Maybe,” a quavering voice replied, “what we should learn from this is that it is not the task of a warrior to bring the Light.”
The voice belonged to Grandmother Spider. “I am old and cannot run fast like the young warriors,” she said. “But I will go.”
Before she left, Grandmother Spider went to the river and gathered clay with her long fingers. As she sang a clay-shaping song, Grandmother Spider made a small pot. Holding her pot in front of her, Grandmother Spider walked slowly in the dark to the east.
Because she walked so slowly, Grandmother Spider’s little pot was dry when she reached the Lake of Light. Maybe you know that if you put a clay thing in the fire too soon, it will shatter. But if you let the clay dry completely, it will not break but will become stronger when you put it in the fire.
Grandmother Spider dipped her pot into the lake. She held it up and it glowed with the Light within.
Then she took a bit ball of Light and put it high in the sky for everyone to see. This she called the sun. She put a smaller ball of Light in the sky and called it the moon. Finally, she shook out the last drops of Light across the sky, and these she called the stars.
Grandmother Spider taught the sun, moon and stars to move in right rhythm so there would be day and night, light and dark.
“Because,” she said, “we need them both. It is in the darkness that we are prepared to carry the Light.”
How have you been prepared? What darkness have you walked through? What darkness are you walking through now? What light do you carry?