When became an adult, got married, moved into a house and had kids (not necessarily in that order), I joined a Methodist church. I was raised Catholic and went to a Catholic school, so this was a big change. One of the first new traditions I embraced was the Longest Night. Each year, on Winter Solstice, the Methodist church had a service that focused on the darker times of the past year. People came who had experienced loss, depression. grief.
At that point, I had recently lost my mother. I had a new baby, a new home, and was overwhelmed and heavy-hearted. I joined the bell choir and played for that service. That first year, I remember just crying through the whole thing.
As you can imagine, the service is not just about loss. Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year. Once Solstice is over, brighter days are literally ahead. So the service is also about finding hope. About persistence. About the triumph of good and light.
I love symbolism so this service always meant a lot to me. I like the idea of things getting better. Of marking time. The cycle of increasing light. And it always comes just before Christmas, a time of frantic preparation. It is a moment to just be still and reflect.
I don’t attend that church these days, but I still take time to reflect every Solstice and remind myself that lighter days are ahead.
This year the Solstice seemed both especially poignant and especially necessary. COVID has wreaked havoc on many lives. So many in my circle have lost loved ones this year. Some due to COVID, others for other natural reasons, but COVID took away our ability to gather and mourn in the way we all want and need to. Still others are hunkered down at home to protect themselves and loved ones, which brings all the pain and challenge of isolation, disruption of routine, and more.
It has just been a heavy year.
I started hearing about the “Christmas Star” (or Great Conjunction) a few weeks before Solstice. Again, the symbolism of Solstice, this unique astronomical happening, and the stars were literally aligned.
I also had it in my mind to go caroling this year. I say every year I want to sing for people more (and not just the poor people at the gym who have to hear me sing along to the soundtrack when I’m squatting). I don’t know why I expect opportunities to be a backup singer for Yacht Rock Revue to fall out of the sky. This Solstice I see I need to create those opportunities.
Who could I bring some light to? We decided to visit two special Moms who have had challenging years, each in their own ways.
I loaded my car and started the night by going out to see the Christmas Star. I went to a parking lot in a remote park about 15 minutes from my house. I was surprised to find about 25 other cars in the lot, all there to view this planetary wonder. I just took some time to quietly look and think about this year and its gifts.
Then, it was over the river and through the woods to the first grandmother’s house. A couple of friends and family members joined in. We dressed silly, I brought my sleigh bells and song books, and off we set to spread some cheer. Our living room concerts brought laughter and tears, smiles and singing along. We took requests. We flubbed the lyrics and stumbled over melodies. We jingled our bells, giggled, swayed and twinkled. In the end, we brought cheer and good tidings and light. On the way to grandmother two’s house we saw lights and so many other holiday sights.
Both these women have lived through this challenging year. They’ve made the most of it. I hope we brought some light and hope to their lives this December. I know their smiles and delight lifted me up. As one of them put it, when we said our goodbyes, “same time next year!”
It’s a date.