As Steve Martin famously demonstrated, it’s hard to choose just one Christmas wish. There is so much I wish for you. Love and laughter, peace and joy. Music that makes you dance, art that makes you think, and people that make you smile.
Also, deep rest, delicious food, abundant sunlight and trees galore.
Oh, and these things too:
But if I could have just one wish that I could make this holiday season, it would be this: that you always have hope. Whether a confident blaze or a tiny spark within, my fervent wish is that you always, always have hope.
I know hope can sometimes seem elusive. I live in Chicago, where there are historical, intractable problems that seem to have no solution (such as homelessness, inequality, and gang wars, to name a few). On the national front, there’s so much hateful political rhetoric, fearmongering, and discord. Often, I find myself struggling between the need to stay informed and the need to avoid feeling depressed by the perpetual doom and gloom that passes for news. Such sad and distressing things happen every day around the world.
On a personal level, we all have things to worry about at one time or another: money, health issues, the well-being of our loved ones.
What's a person to do? How can we muster us up some hope?
Well, this is a good time to ask that question. We just had the winter solstice a few days ago, marking the shortest day and longest night of the year. Although winter has technically just begun, the days will gradually grow longer now, as they have throughout time. For thousands of years, people around the world have observed this milestone, in many different cultures and religions, all welcoming the return of the sun.
Pagans, Wiccans, and others still celebrate the winter solstice, also known as Yule, as one of the eight sabbats in the Wheel of the Year: "In a poetic sense it is on this, the longest night of the winter, 'the dark night of our souls,' that there springs the new spark of hope, the Sacred Fire, the Light of the World, the Coel Coeth.”
I find it comforting to think about those early humans who watched the sky. They knew that the light and heat of the sun was a matter of life or death. So, they built monuments to honor the sun's return and started fire-based traditions such as the burning of a Yule log. They trusted that the darkness wouldn't last.
From the earliest times, humans have sought to bring light to darkness, so it's natural that light is a symbol of hope and celebration. For Christians, Jesus is the Light of the World, and his birthday celebration coincides with the winter solstice. Advent candles are lit in anticipation of the big day. At Hanukkah, the menorah is lit as a symbol of divine light and victory, while Kwanzaa candles represent cultural heritage and hope for the future.
Every year, I see a profusion of holiday decorations--explosions of tinsel and garland; shiny ribbons; boxes of ornaments; pine trees, branches and wreaths; front yards decked out like the Griswold's-- and I realize these decorations serve a purpose. They are meant to brighten up the dreary weather and bring some cheer to a typically cold, gray season. These are sweet traditions. But, for me, the holiday lights are the best. They remind me that darkness is not infallible. It is not permanent.
Where can we find hope? We can look up at the stars like our ancestors did. Or we can look at those star stand-ins: twinkle lights. These tiny shining points of light are beacons of hope. Like the North Star, the Star of Bethlehem, and the star atop a Christmas tree, they all offer hope. They are reminders that we're not alone, and that beautiful things are just up ahead.
We can also bring the illumination inside and light a candle. We can look at the flame and feel our connection to humanity, a human family that continues to seek the light. A humanity of boundless hope.
P.S. When you're in a more hopeful frame of mind, you can see that not all news is bad. There are positive stories every day-- stories of people coming together, standing up for their rights, raising awareness; stories of people helping those in need. Hopeful events such as the Paris Climate Agreement. And also kitties and puppies and weddings and babies. :)
A nature-loving, mystery-reading, magic-seeking, daydreaming kinda gal, Jennifer is the author of the Wiccan Wheel Mysteries.