Picture by Margaret Tarrant: Medici Cards
Although not a Christian, I always celebrate the festival of Christmas as the light of winter time. The birth of a child who brings light to the world is as good a metaphor as any for the rebirth of the life-giving sun.
The festival of Christmas was a part of my life from the beginning, being embedded in the culture I grew up in (although my parents weren't religious), and I fell under its spell, entranced by the candlelit carol services and the poetry of the King James bible. I still recite Isiah 9:2 as I light the Christmas candle:
"The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined" .
When I go to bed on Christmas eve I always have a sense of something wondrous about to happen. Perhaps it is simply conditioning because of the childhood magic of waiting for the coming of Santa Claus and, growing older, this becoming merged with the carol 'O Little Town of Bethlehem' with its opening picture of the dark streets, sleeping but dreamless, and then:
How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is givenSo God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven
These days I'll think of the return of the sun as being the wondrous gift but the concept of the sun shining on all and giving its blessing to everyone is a good one and in this spirit we may think perhaps of our own hearts not only receiving a blessing but also radiating it out to others.
Although I abhor the way Christmas has become commercialised and degraded it seems to me that it still retains a memory of ancient times - a midwinter feast in defiance and celebration just as we slowly begin to move forward from the deep heart of darkness to face the hardest days before the light gains enough strength to nurture life again - a delicate and precarious time rather like convalescence.
Christmas is a time when the promise of love and fellowship, family, peace and joy is never quite or even wholly realised but nevertheless a time which stands as a testament to our human desire and hope for these things. So although often more honoured in the breach than in the observance, we still value them and they serve as a point of orientation which this festival remembers.
I celebrate the Solstice too so my festivities start on the 21st with the lighting of one of Peter Neuman's Solstice and New Year candles and - for the last few years - a Solstice tart. Morrisons supermarkets sell these in December and although they call them 'fruit flans', to me they are sunwheels with their radiating pattern of fruit, gleaming like treasure, culminating in mandarin oranges arranged around the outer rim.
The days from the 21st to the 25th are special days and one day I'll be organised enough to be restful as the sun rests until the 24th, but because I usually get caught up in the general rush and expend more energy than I have, I'm grateful for the 'time-out' that occurs during those few days of the Christmas holiday - a time of stillness echoing the sun's stillness of the previous few days; a time when everyone can catch their breath and step off the relentless merry-go-round for a while.
So often out of step with the contemporary world, I actually welcome Christmas as a festival where I can share the Spirit of the Time with my fellows on this little island in the north of the world...