News, Connections and Photos from the life of the faith community at CAPC Oakland
What is Winter Solstice? Why celebrate it in a church?
In the northern hemisphere, the Winter solstice is day of the year (near December 22) when the Sun is farthest south, marking the first day of the season of winter. It is the shortest day of the solar year. For centuries in diverse cultures it has been a moment marked with religious, philosophical and social implications. Out of the darkness of the longest day of the year the light of the coming summer – and longer days – is reborn.
Historians tells us that Christmas – the birth of Jesus of Nazareth – most likely happened in the Fall or Spring when the nights were warmer for the shepherds out in the fields. Near the fourth century, the early Church began to formalize the celebration of Christmas on December 25th, a day that was already a religious holiday in ancient Roman Culture: Saturnalia, a wild celebration of the god Saturn in which a mock king was elected (this is the holiday from which the tradition of 12th night emerged). The ancients burned a yule log on Solstice, to provide light in the darkness, a practice which was transformed and adapted to become our “yule log” of today, and eventually the practice of burning – or putting lights – on a Christmas Tree.
The early church associated Christmas: the birth of Christ, the incarnation of God who comes into our world, with the solstice, the longest of nights, when the darkness seems to be the most powerful. And yet on this shortest of days, it’s the light that has the upper hand, returning, growing, transforming, living. Tonight we remember the promise that the light shines in the darkness – in all of our darknesses – and that they cannot understand, nor overcome, it.
Walking the Labyrinth of Light we create each year at our celebration – an active form of prayer
“We are all on the path… exactly where we need to be.” The labyrinth is a model of that path. A labyrinth is an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness. It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path. The Labyrinth represents a journey to our own center and back again out into the world. Labyrinths have long been used as meditation and prayer tools. A labyrinth is an archetype with which we can have a direct experience. We can walk it. It is a metaphor for life’s journey. It is a symbol that creates a sacred space and place and takes us out of our ego to “That Which Is Within.” Labyrinths and mazes have often been confused. When most people hear of a labyrinth they think of a maze. A labyrinth is not a maze. A maze is like a puzzle to be solved. It has twists, turns, and blind alleys. It is a left brain task that requires logical, sequential, analytical activity to find the correct path into the maze and out.
A labyrinth has only one path. The way in is the way out. There is only one choice to make: to enter or not. A more passive, receptive mindset is needed. The choice is whether or not to walk a spiritual path. At its most basic level a labyrinth is a metaphor for the journey to the center of your deepest self and back out into the world with a broadened understanding of who you are.
On this longest of nights, symbol of the pain and grief we often live as human beings, we prayerfully walk the labyrinth in hopes of being renewed, encouraged and enlivened by the promise of God’s light – always in the world, never being overcome, even if we fail to understand it. As Christians, we believe that Jesus, as John writes in his gospel, is that Light, the reasons for the Christmas season and why we follow him.