The winter solstice was celebrated for thousands of years before this time of the year became the time when Christmas was celebrated. As it did with so many pagan rituals, the Roman church adapted the solstice celebrations and incorporated them within its own rituals.
Mid-winter is almost certainly not when Jesus was literally born, since Roman census were always taken during the warmer months when travel was possible. But church officials understood that the winter solstice was a celebration of new hope, a new beginning as the sun once again was returning to warm the people and grow food in the fields. It was a brilliant feast with which to celebrate the new hope, the new beginning symbolized by the birth of the Saviour.
Today this time of year is celebrated by peoples and religions world-wide. In some ways, we all recognize that we are at a new beginning. The Mayan calendar, which was hyped as a prediction of the end of the world, was never understood by the Mayans as the end of the world in the apocalyptic sense. This solstice marks the end of a long cycle, and the beginning of a new one.
I personally gather more inspiration from a contemplation and celebration of the solstice than I do of a contemporary commercialized Christmas. To me, the solstice is an almost infinite manifestation of the mystery in which we live – the cycle of life and death, of beginnings and ends, of hope and struggle which is manifest in absolutely everything we see around us.
Perhaps the Mayan prediction is right that we are truly entering into a new cycle on earth – perhaps one shaped by climate change, by the rhythms of evolution, by violence, or alternatively by our capacity for love and creativity. None of us today may live long enough to know.
But today we do celebrate the birth of new hope, or a new beginning.
However dark the night may seem on occasion, may the sun shine on you and those you love in this new season.