After a time of decay comes the turning point. The powerful light that has been banished returns. There is movement, but it is not brought about by force. The idea of RETURN is based on the course of nature. The movement is cyclic, and the course completes itself. Therefore it is not necessary to hasten anything artificially. Everything comes of itself at the appointed time. This is the meaning of heaven and earth.
24. Fu / Return (The Turning Point), from the I Ching or Book of Changes
Next Tuesday is the eve of Yule, one of the four truly pivotal points in the calendar year, and the I Ching describes this brief interval in the Great Round more eloquently than I ever could. The winter solstice is one of only two times in the calendar year (along with the summer solstice) when the sun seems to stand still for a brief interval - that is what "solstice" means, that the sun is standing still. This week's word has been around in one form or another since the beginning times, and it comes to us from the Latin noun sōlstitium, itself a blend of the noun sōl [sun] and the verb sistere [to stand still].
December days are short and dark and sometimes icy cold, dense clouds from here to there most of the time. The earth below our feet sleeps easy under a blanket of snow and glossy ice. For all that, there is a feeling of movement in the landscape, a clear sense that vibrant (and welcome) change is on its way. Sunlight is a scarce quantity here in winter, and we look forward to having a few more minutes of sunlight every single blessed day after Wednesday - until next June when sunlight hours will begin to wane once more. The first few months of the year will be frigid going, but hallelujah, there will be sunlight now and again.
As I build a fire in the old fireplace downstairs, I find myself thinking of the ancestors and their early seasonal rites, how they too must have watched winter skies, fed the fires burning on their hearths for warmth, lit candles to drive the dark away and rejoiced in this poignant turning when the light returns.
Solstice customs here are quiet and of some years standing: a trek into the woods (brief this time around for health reasons) and a walk along the trail with grain, apples and cedar for the deer, suet and seed for the birds. On the way home, we deliver fruitcake (my great grandmother's recipe) and Yule gifts to friends in the highlands, then return to the little blue house in the village for oranges, clementines and winter apples, for candlelight, firelight and mugs of tea. We will look out as as darkness falls and give thanks for the returning light.