Season's Greetings

by Linda Pascatore

© 1995 The Gobbler: Winter Crystal

In the northern hemisphere, winter begins on the longest night of the year, December 21st. From that day until the summer solstice in June, each day is longer and each night shorter than its predecessor. In our culture the beginning of this season has become the time of the new year.

The winter solstice is the darkest time, but not the coldest. Paradoxically, even as the days begin getting longer and there is more sunshine entering our lives, the days continue to get colder. The land and the water temperatures will continue to drop until sometime in February, when the increased warmth and light from the sun will finally have an effect.

This is a time when nature holds her breath: stillness reigns in this most quiet period of the year. The bugs fall silent, plant growth ceases, animals hibernate, and many birds leave. The lakes and streams are frozen, and the land is insulated with a blanket of snow.

Winter is also a time of great physical hardship for both animals and people. Food is scarce. Before access to grocery stores, people had to depend on what was in the root cellar until April. Perhaps this is the root of the giving and sharing that are so important to the Christmas season.

Deep snow and the bitter cold takes its toll. Some will not survive the winter. In the past, this was as true for people as for animals. This was the season that claimed the most vulnerable lives; the weak, the young and the old. This is coldest, darkest, most dangerous time of year.

Although the winter landscape appears almost dead, the seeds of rebirth and new life are already present. Many animals are pregnant and will give birth in the spring. Plants are dormant but not dead. They are just waiting for spring to break ground or blossom. In the depth of winter, the trees have lost last summer's leaves, but if you look closely you can see the buds of spring leaves at the tip of every twig and branch.

There is a parallel between the outer death and inner rebirth in nature and in ourselves. It is natural for people to contemplate their own mortality at this time. Since the outer world is dormant and outside activity is limited, many turn inward.

For some, there is an increase in depression during this dark and cold part of the year. They can't seem to catch the spirit of seasonal cheer or take comfort from a sense of spiritual growth and renewal. The hype, promotion and commercialization focused on this season does not help. Too much is expected by us, for the outer darkness to light an inner fire.

This dichotomy between dark and light, death and rebirth, physical hardship and spiritual growth is evident in many of the traditional holidays celebrated at this time of year. Solstice and Hanukkah celebrations are festivals of light, with candles, lights and fires to celebrate the return of the sun. Christmas honors the birth of Christ, the "Light of the World" and hope of spiritual renewal for mankind.

The Old Year is symbolized by the bent old man wrapped in a robe clutching a scythe and hour glass. He is accompanied by a baby in swaddling, the New Year that will replace the Old. These two illustrate the sense of death and rebirth underlying the season.

In more than one way, the seasons of the year correspond to the stages of our lives. Spring is like youth, a time of birth, growth and fresh sweet experiences. Summer is the prime of our life; our most active, outgoing period. Fall is the autumn of our lives; and for some the most productive time, building on past success. But it's a period when we begin to slow down and turn inward. Winter is a time of old age, spiritual reflection and finally death. But death holds within it the buds of rebirth. While we grow outward and become more involved with the outside world during the first two seasons, we tend to gather in and become more spiritual in the last two.

We don't seem to have time to think about these things in the more active parts of the year. But in winter, there are long, cold nights to sot by the fire and talk to family, read, and think. The bad weather frequently gives us a welcome excuse to stay home, instead of filling our lives with constant activity, commitments, social events, and all the stress that goes with them. Sometimes, the pace of our lives seems to reel out of control.

This is a good time of year to consider simplifying our lives. Instead of making New Year's Resolutions to do more, think about reducing activities. If we really examine our priorities, most of us would like to spend more quality time with our families or close friends and not so much time driving around from one commitment to another.

This might be accomplished by limiting our participation in so many activities that require travel by car. Staying home with family, having more meals together, playing games or cards or just visiting with nearby friends might be more rewarding than some of these more distant activities.

We also don't spend much time alone anymore. It seems that there is no opportunity to read fiction or poetry, meditate, or just sit and daydream or think. Some fill their lives with anything to avoid self contemplation. Quiet time gives us the opportunity to work through personal and spiritual difficulties and to become better people.

In past winters, mother nature forced us indoors with long evenings to be filled with our families and moments of quiet reflection. These were times of legends and stories. We had to deal with each other as well as ourselves during long winter nights.

With the dazzling and hypnotic technology of TV and other electronic entertainment, we can distance ourselves, for a while, from time and place. But it is a numbing escape that leaves us irritated, bored and unfulfilled. Outside, still waiting, is winter and mother nature's lessons of quiet stillness and community.