December is a month filled with momentous occasions. Its celebrations include Kwanzaa, Christmas, Hanukkah, and, for denizens of a particular portion of American popular culture, Festivus. It begins with the mourning and activism of World AIDS Day and ends in the celebratory chaos of New Year’s Eve.
In many interpretations, December’s celebrations mark the changes of light associated with a particular moment in the Western Hemisphere, the day with the shortest period of daylight and the longest night. The Winter Solstice. After December 21, we gradually see the nights grow shorter and the days grow longer. The play of light and shadow changes, beginning—once again—at the Solstice.
For some of us, December is a month filled with endings and for others a month filled with beginnings. We are thrilled to end this class or this semester or this assignment (finally). And yet, the ending is bittersweet. We so look forward to beginning another. In ritual, we remind ourselves that beginnings and endings are never entirely distinct—but rather deeply, persistently, and repeatedly entangled. Endings and beginnings repeat—once again—in December.
The repetition itself reminds us of the boring and mundane of over and over again and brings with it the paradoxical joy of recognition and acknowledgement. Hope lies in knowing we have been here before.
In some senses, the echoes of the Solstice are exactly like they were last year and for many, many, many years before. In other ways, these moments in this December are particular. They are our moments, part of this time in our lives. We reach nostalgically backwards and optimistically forward. We read the words and light the candles each and every year—they resonate across time while simultaneously defining our time and this moment. We know the layering of words and actions expands their meaning and reminds us that the play of light and shadow changes—and the inexorable movement of time carries us also toward hope.
A teacher of mine, Mircea Eliade, used the phrase “in illo tempore” to refer to a sacred time to which we return—repeatedly—to make and remake our world and ourselves. Reverberating in some tales as “at that time” and in others as “once upon a time,” December too can stand in for that time because—in its Solstice and its many moments—December reminds us, as Leonard Cohen has sung over the years—that “there is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” December reminds us to live in the both/and not the either/or.
I hope you will find this as moving a harbinger of all that December 2020 can mean as I do.
May your December be filled with light—and where it is not, may the cracks truly allow the light in.