Reason for the Season
dark this time of year. You know that. I know that.
on my mind a little more than usual, since, as I write this,
Im in the middle of our familys second annual
dark time. To remind ourselves of the true reason
for the season (no offense to the Christmas story, of which
we are fond), we have chosen to forego electric light (with
an exception for the Christmas tree lights) for the period
between the solstice and Christmas, marking the end of the
dark time by getting up to see sunrise on Christmas morning.
Call it an interfaith mashup.
always been a little uncomfortable with how our culture smoothes
out the varying seasons, expecting everyone to work and sleep
for the same amount of time, at the same hours, all year long,
no matter the length of light, the time of sunrise/sunset,
or the temperature.
have to admit that when we first did the dark time last year,
it was clear that I had had little idea of what it actually
meant to function only on sunlight in the winter, even as
far south from the realm of 24-hour darkness as we actually
are, and even in my urban location where various bright electric
lights shine in most of my windows all night anyway if I dont
pull the shades down.
something to force me to stop and pay attention, Im
just as likely to have the shortest day or the first crocus
or the return of the crows or the departing of geese pass
me by as the next person who spends too much time staring
at a glowing screen. Becoming a gardener, and being interested
in wild edibles, was a good way to connect myself to the nuance
of the turning year during growing season. But that falls
away in the winter. Even a solstice observance on the day
of celebrating the returning light felt a little odd when
I hadnt until that moment really tuned in to its absence.
now we tune in. When you leave off the light bulbs, a dimming
of the light is noticeable inside by mid-afternoon. On cloudy
days it is particularly early and pronounced. Leaving off
the lights makes evening a world apart, shrunk to a small
pool of light around your candle. (Or candles. At dinner time
our kitchen table actually looks like one of those Catholic
pay-to-light-a-candle-for-someone displays.) I go to bed earlier.
I dont disappear into my computer the second Im
off work or kid duty for a few minutes. We have figured out
that there is a lot one can actually do by candlelight.
I actually got outside for a walk in the sun on the solstice
itselfsomething I often dont manage from my home
office in the winter. I noticed the suns low angle and
the long shadows and gave thanks that I dont live within
400 miles of the North Pole (the area that gets true 24 hours
is also still a little scary. Last year I caught myself getting
anxious, even afraid, as I tried to finish up whatever it
was that I was unsure of my ability to do by candlelight.
I felt dusk as a physical presence in a way I never had before.
Present wrapping was tough. Finding small things was tougher.
we are a little better prepared. We left somewhat less Christmas
prep for the last minute. We planned our meals carefully.
But theres a level past which you cant make it
not a big deal to make such a big change. So it is something
we undertake with the idea that we cant quite be ready
for it, that it involves a certain amount of letting go of
love to tell you that this slips me into a meditative, spiritual,
contemplative state of rest and renewal. It does, some of
the time. Theres some wonderful, magical moments that
come out of it. But I dont think of our dark time as
being about some noble effort to live more naturally or get
into a different spiritual frame of mind. I see it more as
an exercise in paying attention, noticing the turning points,
and celebrating how people make it through tough timeswhich
I think they generally do better when they dont pretend
everything is normal or fine.
to the returning light.