Thursday, December 18, 2008

Evergreens, Renewal, and Solstice


Long before there were strings of lights and tinsel, there was an evergreen. In pre-Christian Celtic tradition, on the darkest day of the year—winter solstice, December 21— stories tells us the Celts brought ivy, holly, and other evergreens into the house to adorn their homes and remind them of the renewal of spring.

As the story goes, the greens remained in the home until they would be burned to celebrate the arrival of Spring in a holiday that was later adapted to become St. Bridget’s Day.

We tried doing this in our house one year. The greens didn't look so pretty on Feb. 2, and everyone made fun of me in late January when my dried, nasty and yellow looking wreath was still up over the fireplace. We had a small get together and music session on Feb. 2 that year, and I burned that wreath most enthusiastically. The pine pitch sparkled and crackled in the fireplace, reminding me of how dangerous it is to burn pine in a fireplace. Well, whatever. We survived it.

It was a lovely way to mark the turning of the seasons, a way to feel connected to the earth beneath our feet, and to honor the universal human message of renewal and hope that is intimated in the religious birth of Christ. It is appropriate that the Celts were able to absorb Christian tradition by placing the celebration of Christ's birth at this time of year, immediately following solstice. Evergreens remain a central Christmas symbol for us to this day, and it is a tribute to the strength of the human spirit that we can celebrate a season of joy amid darkest time of year.

Regardless of religion, the words from Isaiah 9:2 in the Old Testament can remind us of this renewal:

"The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined."

Wishing you great renewal and joy during this season!

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