The calendar new year is ticking toward its annual reset, the days are already beginning to lengthen, and most people are meditating on ways to renew their lives. There is a world full of winter holidays and festivals to help focus the mind on those ideas.
In my personal calendar, a time of reflection spans from the solstice on December 21st to New Years day and it doesn’t surprise me that many holidays of the world’s cultures and religions fall around this darkest moment of the year. Although they have different origins and particularities, to me they all interconnect by the idea of cyclical reflection and renewal.
Here is a little winter-holiday food for thought:
Christmas is surely the most obvious of the winter holidays in the US. Although its commercialism can sometimes shout down its other meanings, the spiritual aspects, and even the gatherings of friends and family are central to its celebration. The German tradition of the lighted christmas tree and the American neighborhoods decked with many strands of holiday lights all seem to stand out against the short days. But Christmas is only one of many holidays involving gathering with friends and family in a warm lighted space against the pressing dark and chill of winter.
Hanukkah, celebrating the miracle of eight days of light from one day’s supply of oil, and symbolized in the eight armed menorah also focuses minds on family, warmth and tradition just at the darkest time of the gregorian year (though it’s timing follows the Hebrew calendar).
The Pagan Solstice, Germanic custom of Yule and Iranian holiday of Yalda all directly reference the 21st of december as the turning point of the year.
Even Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, parallels the very human desire to celebrate the triumph of light over dark. Although it is timed according to the lunisolar calendar (around a new moon period) and falls in October or November, it shares the symbolism of cyclical renewal. My own theory (based in absolutely no fact or research) is that a lunar cycle would seem more important than a solar one to cultures closer to the equator where the difference in day length through the year is much less pronounced.
Likewise the Chinese New Year falls in January or February, following the Chinese calendar and recognizes the end of winter rather than its darkest point but still serves as a hinge point for the year, inviting meditation and celebration of the year past and the one to come.
What is the turning point of your particular calendar. What new-year celebrations have I forgotten. Share in the comments if you please!