Lighting one candle
from another –
When I was a kid, no one helped me face catastrophe or loss. In the 1950s, everyone I knew feared a nuclear attack. Teachers told us to hide under our desks, probably the same advice kids get now. While the world went nuts with war and McCarthyism, my dad was ill for twelve years and died when I was a teenager.
The adults tried to hide anxiety and pain. They couldn’t, of course, and secrecy created despair and isolation. No one said a thing about facing grief or surviving darkness. No one spoke of lessons to be learned or support to be found.
I longed for a balancing energy. My favorite Christmas carols were “Oh Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining” and the chorus from “We Three Kings”:
O Star of Wonder, Star of Night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to Thy perfect Light.
Christmas in my childhood family was more about gifts and Santa than Christ and Light. Looking back, I see we were celebrating Winter Solstice and the return of light just as all humans do. We used reassuring cultural and religious symbols while other families used different traditions, but the underlying prayer was the same. Let there be Light.
When darkness peaks in the Northern Hemisphere, Nature offers us a universal symbol. The Sun pauses. It always returns.
This year, Anthony, David, and Liz will be home for Solstice. As we have since my husband Vic’s death, we’ll create a ritual. We won’t have gifts or fancy food. Instead we’ll speak from the heart about what we miss, where things have gone right or wrong, and how to make life better. Our words will be our prayers. We’ll kindle hope by lighting candles. Instead of hiding grief and disappointment, we’ll cradle our losses together. (Don’t worry. We’ll celebrate with gifts and feasting a few days later.)
As I walk through the forest on these short December days, I gather pine cones and acorns. I bought golden beeswax candles and brought out the photo of Vic hiding in red maple leaves. My Green Man. When everyone arrives, we’ll collect evergreen branches, moss, and juniper berries. If we’re lucky, we’ll find red winterberries and a feather or two.
We’ll build an altar with Vic’s photo in the back. Last year at David and Liz’s house, our altar included many photos. Everything is welcome. We’ll light our candles and tell stories that make us cry and laugh. We’ll acknowledge the hole in our hearts and fear in our bellies and make space for love and gratitude. We’ll light more candles to remember people we love who are far away.
Life teeters on between opposites. Dark and Light. Loss and Gain. Death and New Beginnings. The darkest moment yields to new Light. We count on it. It’s that time of year.
Two years ago, I wrote How to Create a Solstice Ritual: Honoring Nature’s Pause with ideas about creating a ritual of your own. In 2012, I wrote Solstice Blessings: A Family Ritual of Remembrance and Love about our first family Solstice ritual after Vic’s death. Have you tried creating a ritual of remembrance during the holidays? As a culture, we shy away from shared grief, but my family feels closer when we consciously make space for grief and disappointment. What’s your experience?