A simple ritual to fight the winter darkness
I am not made for winter.
I don’t know how I possibly could be, considering that I was born smack dab in the middle of June in Houston to parents whose air conditioning had gone out the week before.
Something about those miserable conditions imprinted on my DNA, so I’ll take a relentless sun and air thick with moisture over skin- and mind–numbing cold any day.
For me, far worse than the cold of winter is the darkness.
Every single year on summer solstice, I feel that familiar twinge of sadness knowing that from that bright day forward, we lose a little more light each day until we find ourselves in the depths of winter and the end of the school day bleeds so quickly into sunset.
The cold and the dark make the hours before bedtime feel so long and lonely. Sure, our home is cozy, but I much prefer evenings on the front porch, chatting with neighbors while kids race from yard to yard.
I’m thirty-six years old and one would think that by now, I would be able to take the season all in stride, but every single year I am surprised again by how isolated and disconnected I feel throughout the winter months.
This year, however, quite by accident I’ve found myself in a rhythm that has allowed me to genuinely look forward to each evening’s setting sun.
It started when this year, my daughters asked if we could keep the Advent wreath with its sweetly colored candles in their room. I hesitated because it would be quite unorthodox, but ultimately agreed to it, and I am so glad I did!
From the first Sunday of Advent to Christmas Eve, each night we lit the candles before our Advent reading for the night, and their anticipation and enjoyment of the candles was contagious. The soft, flickering glow lighting up the faces of my daughters and the predictable routine of repetition each evening combined to create for us the most meaningful Advent season ever.
Photo by Chris Parker
Some people are candle people, and some people just aren’t. I have friends who keep candles burning in their homes throughout the year, but I generally have avoided them. Quality candles are expensive and I’m sensitive to strong scents and so for reasons pragmatic and practical, we’ve never been a candle-burning family. Until now.
A few days after Christmas, I splurged on quite the candle collection, and I’ve fallen in love with the warmth and light they bring to our evenings. I even find that I’m (gasp) looking forward to the sun setting each evening so I can indulge in my new evening ritual!
As we approach the end of the day and dusk falls over the city, I go through the downstairs and close the shutters. I much prefer the muted light given off by lamps over the harshness of overhead light fixtures, so those are clicked on, and finally, I light candles in each room.
I was fortunate to find some unscented ones, but on the advice of my friend Haley, I’ll soon be ordering some beeswax candles. And no one was more surprised than I was by how delightful flameless candles are! I can tuck those away in the spots where a true flame would prove quite hazardous.
With four children (including eleven month old twin boys), our days are loud and busy and often unpredictable. Perhaps this is why I’ve come to treasure so deeply the few moments of intentional, thoughtful rhythms every evening that signal the winding down of another day.
One more beautiful benefit of this newly found joy in candlelight is that in a very real way, it helps ward off the isolation that winter often brings, for as strange as it may seem, the lighting of candles creates in me a sense of connection to community – the community of women who for centuries before me who spent winter evenings gathering loved ones in from the cold, closing their homes against the bitter wind, and warming their families with the flickering glow of firelight.
I would love to hear your thoughts today: what rhythms and rituals do you find help make winter more meaningful? And if you are a candle person, I would especially love to hear your recommendations for what I should burn next!
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