The Bleak Midwinter

Sometimes I wish hibernating were still in fashion.  Or, failing that, I wish we were still part of a pagan culture that had proper fear and respect for the waning of the light, and the relentlessly encroaching darkness. More than any other time of year, I find myself turning to nature, to poetry, to tradition and to rituals to take me through the shortest days. Anything that will lend meaning and grace to the darkness, really.

As someone who was born Jewish but has had a Christmas tree every one of my years on this planet, and who married someone raised in a different faith, we often joke that we’re raising our kids with God’s Greatest Hits.* And it’s true that we pick and choose the pieces we love best from our histories.  But to me, it is less contradictory than it is pieces of a cohesive whole.  One of my favorite pieces ever is a poem by the utterly amazing children’s book author Susan Cooper who, in addition to writing some of my all-time favorite books, also worked on the original Christmas Revels, a play that is one of the aforementioned rituals we stick to.  The poem is called The Shortest Day, and in it, she writes,

“They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.”

Every year, as I look at the candles flickering on the Menorah, and watch the lights gleaming off the treasures hung on our tree, I think of this poem. We are all –  Jewish, Christian, Pagan, and beyond –  just trying to keep the faith.

So I don’t know how all of you are doing on these shortest days. But I hope that there is enough wonder and joy and magic and hope to keep the year alive.

And as one last, joyful ritual, here’s one of my favorite songs, titled, appropriately, The Christians and the Pagans:

So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able
Lighting trees in darkness, learning new ways from the old, and
Making sense of history and drawing warmth out of the cold

-Dar Williams

*One of my astute friends reminded me recently that we really only play the A side…


2 comments to The Bleak Midwinter

  • I was so incredibly touched by that. I am in the exact same boat. Jewish, X-mas tree every year, he’s a lapse catholic who still strongly believes in something but unsure of what. We will be raising our children with God’s greatest hits too now. So thank you for putting a name to our faith.

  • Su

    LOL @ God’s Greatest Hits. That’s brilliant.

    I’ve never been a winter gal, but this year has been better than usual. And this post is lovely and makes it seem much less bleak!

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