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  • Nora Buckley

Return of the Sun

Halloween is my favorite holiday, but the darkness surrounding it almost does me in every year. As the days darken in late summer and early fall, so does my mood. Long before the time changes from Daylight Savings to Standard time, I find myself going to sleep earlier and experiencing inexplicable bouts of sadness.

Like many neurodiverse people, I experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in addition to ADHD. One would think that by now I would be able to anticipate this and begin using my 10,000 LUX Light Therapy lamp before I fall into total despair, but no, it still sneaks up on me every single year.

Now, as the darkest month of the year begins, I find myself desperately looking forward to the Winter Solstice on December 21, representing the turn of the wheel and the return of the sun.

In Pagan times, the winter solstice was referred to as Yule and was a celebration of the Goddess (Moon) energy. It was thought that on this day, the Moon would give birth to the sun! Many of today’s traditions such as lighting candles, hanging fairy lights, Christmas trees and yule logs originated from Solstice customs. It is no accident that all holidays around this time of year celebrate light. Christmas, Chanukah, and the newer Kwanzaa, all include traditions of lighting candles and/or decorative outdoor lights and menorahs. Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights held in October/November, also celebrates light, as celebrants illuminate their homes, temples and workspaces with diyas, candles, and lanterns.

Every year at Stonehenge in England, historically a Druidic site of worship, people gather to celebrate the sunrise following the Solstice, marking the moment that the days will finally begin to lengthen, the return of the light.

Druids follow the eightfold Wheel of the Year, and the year is reborn again at the Winter Solstice. One of their ceremonies included throwing scraps of fabric on the ground in the darkness to signify the things that have been holding them back -- impeding the light. Then a single lamp is lit and raised in the east to welcome the new cycle, which reaches its peak at the Summer Solstice. The wheel of the year continues to turn until Samhain (Halloween) which represents the dying of the year and the start of the liminal period before it is renewed at the Winter Solstice.

Although I am not a Druid, my moods definitely resonate with this interpretation of the wheel of the year, and encourage me to celebrate the Winter Solstice in any way I can imagine. Granted that the days remain somewhat dark well into winter, if we look carefully we will see signs as early as January that the sun is rising a little earlier, the houseplants are turning towards the sun and beginning new growth, and despite the cold of winter, we can find hope in the lengthening daylight.

This winter in particular, I am sure that we will need that hope more than we usually do. The New York Times quotes the dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, Dr. Ashish Jha, as saying ”the next three months are going to be just horrible”. The same article states that some epidemiologists predict that the death toll in the United States could be close to twice the 250,000 figure that was surpassed last week.

There is hope on the horizon in the form of several promising new vaccines that may likely be available to the general population by Spring. Meantime, we need to get through the winter. In her book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, Katherine May writes of a transformative winter during which she and her family changed their focus away from pushing through with normal life and towards making a new one. She suggests watching winter and listening carefully to its messages, including that life is often unfair but it carries on happening with or without our consent.

She writes of her new ritual for the Christmas period, during which she lights a bonfire on the beach at sunset after the Solstice and repeats the phrase “We have turned the year”. I will not be lighting a bonfire this Solstice, but I think I will light a candle and celebrate that we have turned the year.

And yes, after the Solstice I will do my best to enjoy a virtual Christmas celebration with my grandchildren, with lots and lots of Light!

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