I call the months from October to January, (when the days finally start to lengthen) the “ Season of the Dark.” My rituals stem from the celebration of light in the dark. I love this special time of year, despite its commercial exploitation, for the palpable experience it provides.
Growing up in a family that was not traditionally religious, yet still connected to the foundation of spirituality, rooted me in seasonal tradition. My father grew up Jewish and my mother a Southern Baptist. Together our family created a compromise based in love.
I have somehow continued to honor ritual around the light with my own family, and am now aware that my daughter, even in her distracted teenage years, appreciates them. I saw how adamantly resistant she was when we contemplated a possible trip away from home during the Holidays. Her excitement during this time has spurred me on to establish new holiday rituals ones that my own New England family would never have embraced.
It wasn’t until I moved to the Midwest that I joined the frenzy of decorating the exterior of the house. New Englanders rarely string orange and white lights that look like candy corn all over the front porch, as well as hang spider webs and giant bugs over the railings.
Most of all, we look forward each year, to the pumpkin carving ritual – a time when when my daughter was little we would scour the pumpkin farms around the area in order to choose a special one. As a family, we would gather in the kitchen and proceed with the messy task of scooping out the seeds and inner guts creating the space for the candle to rest inside. Then drawing the face, Dad would carefully proceed to carve life into her pumpkin. We would turn out all the lights, sitting the dark waiting to light the candle nested inside. The magic would begin as we each gave life to our pumpkin. Giving them names, personalities, and even engaging in great conversation revealed our own inner light.
I carry the hope that she knows the holiday is more than the candy! This year, in her first year as a high school student, she came home to carve pumpkins with her new boyfriend and perhaps to share a deeper part of herself.
With November comes shorter darker days and yet it welcomes my favorite day, Thanksgiving. I love” slow food” and the memories of my mother’s amazing cooking. She was a master at presenting a beautiful table setting, flower arrangements, and a gourmet meal. She imparted the feeling that her efforts were for me alone. She loved to create beauty- a tradition which has given me an appreciation of her rituals.
As a little girl, my daughter would also want to decorate the table, lighting the candles herself! She sat (without squirming or complaining) at the dining room table for hours taking part in our family tradition of sharing our gratefulness. This year, I had an extra sense of blessing when she put her phone away and we never saw it the entire time while celebrating our meal. Thinking back, she enjoyed just being present as we all shared in a common desire to connect with one another.
Life is getting so hectic – too busy and distracted and the quality of our attention becomes a true gift of the day. Yes, we also watched the football games, but there was also the significance of sharing the day without distraction of our daily habits. The ritual of nourishing the deeper places in all of us.
I never grew up with lights strung all over the house. Yet, now I go crazy; I love to be a part of keeping the night illuminated with bright lights. Decorating the houses is a neighborhood endeavor, but our family ritual is getting the live Christmas tree and reflecting on each ornament as we share in their careful placement on the tree. Each has a story, a memory.
Creating our family alter brings such joy as we gather in the dark to witness the beauty of our glowing tree. The actual smell, feel, and sight of a tree in our house offers a pleasant reminder of the sweetness in life. It renews my spirit with a promise of hope. I am passing onto my daughter the desire to look to the light and to share my enthusiasm even in a world of uncertainty and struggle.
Holding vigil for light is an important part of living. It is through ritual we are reminded of possibility for humanity to live in kindness.
In this Season of the Dark, we carry forward the inner light, as an anchor for the soul.