The Solstice Cometh.
The December holidays–Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa–all share the symbol of light. It is the time of the winter solstice, when the Sun promises longer days–the reborn year. Light is perhaps the paramount symbol. It holds the promise of redemption.
In his story A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens distills the worst with the best of human shortcomings and strengths to exemplify the lessons of redemption and selfless reward (these themes are retold in many of our cultures’ best-loved movies, including It’s a Wonderful Life and Fred Claus). The story of the recovery of a soul endures because of its truth, a deep, perhaps primal, truth that seems to touch something in us all. Ebenezer Scrooge is disconsolate and loathsome. His internal light is as faint as the single candle flame he uses to find his way through dark, narrow corridors of his gloomy house; it is less warm than the stingy fire built in his hearth. One by one, three spirits arrive to reveal the truth of the past and present, and what will happen without conversion of mind and heart.
In the end, Dickens has provided the model for modern-day Christmas. Scrooge experiences the joy in compassionate giving with absolutely no thought of receiving anything in return. His internal light glows with the brilliance of the Sun. This is Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative. This is the Golden Rule. This is the lesson we keep teaching our children, that it is better to give than to receive. And by giving freely of ourselves, we in turn receive a bounty–not necessarily a physical reward, but a rich communion between our soul and the souls of others.
In The Way, Emilio Estevez’s film centering on four pilgrims’ journey on El Camino de Santiago (The Way of Saint James), a Spanish gypsy man tells the lead character Thomas (the doubter) that the trek has nothing to do with religion. At the end of the 500-mile walk, four “pilgrims” come to accept something about themselves that they were unable to accept before the journey began–revelations born of experience, not of religion.
Stories like The Way and A Christmas Carol serve as inspiration to seek enlightenment, but we’ll have to do it on our own. Not many of us will have the benefit of spirit visitations or a guardian angel to show us the value of our lives; but signs, or omens, are always on the road if we but stop long enough to recognize them and to have faith that they will light our path.
It is the symbolic promise of the solstice that even after the darkest of times, light shall return.