There are so many things to love about this time of year, whether or not you celebrate any religious holidays. Today is solstice, the shortest day of the year, and it seems pretty clear to me that no matter what your belief system – and even if you don’t have any at all, really – this time of year is about light. Candles and Christmas lights offer a pretty sanctuary from what might otherwise be a dark, challenging time. In Madison, it’s sometimes dark by four o’clock! Grey, overcast days and short daylight hours can make it hard to face the morning — or the very early night. Physically and symbolically, light offers hope in the darkness, and represents a reminder that the days get longer again, starting tomorrow.
Sometimes it seems as if nature and humanity have come together to offset the season of darkness with light. I am reminded of the beauty and “lightness” of winter by the fifteen inches of snow we had yesterday. (Okay, so maybe the tree branches don’t think of all that snow as light.) Snow reflects the moon and the stars, and gives an ambience to the landscape that offsets the darkness of winter. It is beautiful, and creates a completely different world for us to watch and play in. What a wonderful gift!
And then there are the holidays. Christmas is filled with light, both candle and electric. Hanukkah is, of course, the Festival of Lights; it ended on the 16th this year. I was fascinated to find exactly how many winter and end-of-year festivals there are and have been through history. You can see the very long Wikipedia list here: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_winter_festivals)
And sometimes, Mother Nature gifts us with a snow day just when we need it, so we can explore and be inspired by both its joyful charm and its elegant allure. Yesterday afternoon, I went down to nearby James Madison Park to take photos of some creative snowmen that neighbors had built. With the ominous dark clouds and high waves behind them on Lake Mendota, the snowmen made me happy. I couldn’t help but smile at each one, imagining what it was saying to me.
So yesterday at The Livingston Inn, as we dealt with over a foot of snow, we also took time to sit by the fire, enjoy the Christmas lights, and walk down to the lake, to admire the special, ethereal beauty of this time of year, when we take light wherever we can find it.