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
The Christians and the Pagans
"It's dark out now, but the light is coming." This is the message that the Pagan celebration of Winter Solstice (Dec 21st) and the Christian celebration of Christmas (Dec 25th) has in common. As the days grow short, we long for light -- both physical and metaphysical, to carry us through the dark season. Advent, which means simply "to come," is the season that leads up to both the Pagan tradition of celebrating the return of the Life-Giver, the Sun; and the Christian tradition of celebrating the birth of the Son, Jesus, who in religious parlance is often referred to as "the light of the world." The Advent wreath, which has it's finger in both tradition's pies, is a simple practice that brings warmth, meaning and light to the holiday season. And the good news is, it's easy to practice!
The Advent Wreath at it's roots is an ancient Pagan rite. In the Pagan era people would bring their cart wheels indoors during the Winter, to preserve this important tool of survival from the wet and the cold. The wheels were hung from the ceiling and used and impromptu chandeliers. As the days grew short and the nights lengthened, people would deck the wheels out with evergreens and candles and spin them as an incantation to the Powers, asking that the light be returned. And what do you know? As the longest night of the Winter Solstice tipped the world towards Spring, the days started to lengthen and the light came back!
In the Christian era this practice was adopted by the church. (Most, if not all Christian traditions find their roots in other religions.) A wreath of evergreens is laid on a table (or here in Denmark, hung from the ceiling) and filled with four candles -- one for each week of the waiting, or Advent, season. Originally the candles were simply a countdown, one for each of the four Sunday's preceding Christmas. Now, in liturgical churches the candles are different colors and have different themes. The colors and meanings are not standardized across denominations (e.g. branches) of the Christian church. But generally the colors are purple, rose, and white and the themes are Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. (For more info, click here.)
You can easily use a wreath to bring attentiveness and meaning into your home this holiday season. Buy a wreath at your local store, and lay it on your table. You might want to put something protective beneath it like a large platter or even just a couple sheets of wax paper, trimmed to fit. Place four candles inside the wreath--or five if you want a separate one to light on Solstice Day or Christmas Day. Gather your family, friends, or your own dear self to the table once a week (usually a Sunday), light the candle are read something meaningful. Here are two inter-faith suggestions that I've used as an officiate at both Solstice and Christmas celebrations:
Soon, our nights grow shorter and our days grow long.
We look once more on these earthy symbols–
firelight and evergreens–
and embrace the glow of hope
That Light and Life will return once again to the earth.
The people who lived in darkness have seen a great light,
and we have beheld its glory,
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
And the darkness could not put it out.
generous from the inside out,
true from start to finish,
full of grace, full of truth.
As each week draws us closer to these celebrations of Light, the light from the wreath literally grows brighter and stronger, chasing the shadows to the corners and providing us with hope. I find it to be a powerful symbol of a universal truth: the light comes into the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.
What will you do to celebrate the Light's return? Please add your ideas and links to the comments below.
Other Resources for the Advent of Solstice and Christmas:
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