In Community – Light the Way Home
Light the Way Home
This is the season when we are asked to light one another’s way because the sun surely isn’t going to do it for us. The sun goes down a full hour later in Atlanta as I write than it does in Portland, OR, where I sit. Still, I imagine it’s dark enough during rush hour that you feel the shortening days.
My point, whether the sun’s going down at 4:15 or 5:15, is that it is a dark time outside our doors, and it will be for many weeks to come. And yet—or perhaps I should say, “and so”— in culture after culture in the Northern Hemisphere, at this time of year, we see celebration.
And we see celebration outside. Minnesotans claim that the only way to get used to northerly winters to is to get out in them. The Quebecois have traditions of ice skating parties and there are celebrations throughout all of Scandinavia that involve ice races. There are gorgeous, boisterous German outdoor markets where people find the best handmade gifts you could hope for.
People in the north know well enough to take advantage of the light while you can get it. Where I am, in the Pacific Northwest, when the sun peeks out in winter, it’s a treasure. We take our vitamin D supplements and bask when that strange and unfamiliar glowing disk shows his face.
And once you can’t get that light, see that face, well then, it’s time to take matters into our own hands, as it were. Once it gets really dark, around Hanukkah (which ends the day before the solstice this year), Christmas, or solstice itself, we have to light one another’s way.
We need celebration. We need gathering. We need these little candles, little twinkly lights and silly decorations.
Advent candles are lit…slowly, people gather around the wreath with one candle for each of four Sundays before Christmas. Hanukkah candles are lit…slowly, people gather around the menorah, with one candle for each of miraculous days of life-giving light and warmth.
In my house, on solstice, we leave the electric lights off all day and night. We light the house with candles, more and more, hour by hour, as the day darkens. And then, as tradition demands, we make a huge mess of the kitchen by baking cookies in the candlelit darkness of late afternoon. (It’s not until morning that we REALLY know the mess we’ve made.)
Once we get through solstice, once the dark relinquishes its hold, just a little, hope is easier to find. There is just a sliver to remind us that life rises, peaks, relinquishes, dies, and is renewed.
Christmas Eve really is, in some ways, (to my Christian-adjacent, Pagan mind), the Christian solstice. It is the night of luminaria, the beautiful, glowing lights that line people’s driveways and paths, and the ways into churches. Luminaria, the lights we offer one another to find the way home toward the light of the world, the hope of peace, the reminder of justice, and the meaning of faith.
Hope is hard for some of us to find these days. And that’s part of why people observe wintertime holidays. The holidays help us remind ourselves of the permanent nature of change. They help us remind ourselves that for each day that has grown shorter, another will soon grow longer. By lighting our candles, by sharing our messy-kitchen-creating cookies, by welcoming one another into houses bedecked with lights, by leaving luminaria along the way to the places we call home, we insist on hope. We insist on hope in the very teeth of the time when hope seems furthest away.
Let us light one another’s way, considering the holidays of darkness and light. Let us help one another insist upon hope, hope in action, hope in love, and hope in peaceful understanding that life is hard and that all things change.
Let us light one another’s way.
Blessed December to you, my friends.