December 21, 2021
Day 24: Ceremonies and Rituals
This branch on the Tree of Contemplative Practices has a longer name – Ceremonies and Rituals based in spiritual or cultural traditions. Today (this evening) happens to be the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. My friend Nancy and I taped a quiet, reflective service I put up on my church’s Facebook page. Services similar to this one are called a Blue Christmas (or, Holiday) service or the Longest Night service.
This service is an alternative to the bright, “holly, jolly” false faces so many put on at this time of the year. The forced gaiety, the consumerism, the festivities many people just want to avoid. While I know many who look forward to this time of the year, there are others who just want this holiday season to blow away!
The Winter Solstice is another name for today, too. The Longest Night (or Shortest Day) of the year is either marked or celebrated in many cultures and ethnic rituals, going back to neolithic times. I am thinking of both Stonehenge in England and Newgrange in Ireland, structures erected long ago along site lines that mark the movements of the sun on the day of the Winter Solstice. The winter time, the famine months were to be dreaded, in centuries and millenia past. It was important for a community to keep track of the movements of the sun, in order to apportion out food over the coldest months of the year.
Yet, this is only part of the reason that the Blue Christmas (or Longest Night) service means so much to me. It is also a return of the Light. There will be more sunlight tomorrow, and more the next. We are lighting the darkness tonight. There is a reason that so many celebrations and commemorations in different cultures and religions feature light so prominently.
And, in more recent times, the Blue Christmas service is specifically an alternative service for those for whom the holidays are a difficult time. This year more than most, with the pandemic continuing, and with a diminishing of hope, griefs and losses of all kinds, and fear and anxiety running rampant. What a necessary thing, to have a Longest Night service available for those who are challenged by this time of the year.
May this Contemplative Practice be helpful to you or your loved ones. I hope so. I pray so. Amen.
Thanks to the website www.contemplativemind.org for their excellent image the Tree of Contemplative Practices.