December 18, 2014

Winter Lights

Art from Winter Lights by Anna Grossnickle Hines
Tomorrow night is the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. The sun sets just a wee bit earlier and rises just a tad bit later than at any other time of the year, plunging our northern world in darkness.

During the darker weeks, we tend to turn to light for comfort and to lift our spirits: a dancing candle flame, a cozy fire, a beaming flashlight.

Friends’ School’s Winter Celebrations are centered around light, as well as peace and community.  We come together and each class shares songs they have learned and we sing together as a community.  We light candles and celebrate the light in the winter darkness. In our classrooms, each child is acknowledged for his or her particular gifts and given a necklace with a bead to symbolize his or her uniqueness.

Our school celebrations are a means for bringing whole families together, as well as acknowledging the cyclical nature of life and preserving a rich and meaningful sense of community through shared and repeated ceremony.  It is important to us that each celebration we have builds and strengthens a sense of community in our children.  We want the celebrations to reflect different beliefs and family cultures.  We also feel it is important that they build a sense of ecological respect for the earth as well as a historical and cultural perspective. 

Focusing on light is a big part of our elementary winter celebration.  I love these words from a fabulous children’s book by Anna Grossnickle Hines, Winter Lights:

“Even natural lights have a special quality in winter: the morning sun glinting on icicles, early sunsets, stars glittering in the cold, moonlight on fresh snowfall. But perhaps most heartwarming of all are the lights we use in winter celebrations. Thousands of years ago, people didn't understand how the rotation of the earth and its orbit around the sun caused the winter months to grow darker and colder. They feared the sun would disappear altogether.

In many cultures, people celebrated midwinter solstice rituals to encourage the return of the sun and its life-giving light. Such rituals were celebrated on every continent and usually involved feasting, merrymaking, gift giving, and decorating with evergreens as symbols of sustained life. They centered around fire and light of some sort, including Yule logs, bonfires, lighted trees, candles, and fireworks.


Many of our winter celebrations today incorporate these same symbols. In Scandinavian traditions, winter holidays begin with Santa Lucia's Feast Day, when eldest daughters appear in candlelit crowns. Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, is celebrated with eight days of candle lighting. The evergreen Christmas tree is well-lit to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and faralitos, paper bag lanterns, symbolically light the path for Mary and Joseph in much of the southwestern United States. Chinese New Year celebrations include fireworks to frighten off bad spirits, including Nian, the monster who threatens at the end of the old year. Kwanzaa celebrates the rich heritage, abilities, and hopes of African Americans with seven days of candle lighting.”

In our Kindergarten class this week, I enjoyed hearing one of our parents share about her family’s tradition of celebrating Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. The festival spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness.


Wherever your lights take you at this winter break, I hope you enjoy it with family and close friends. May you find comfort and may your spirits be lifted.

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