22 December 2021 No Comments by The Northern Standard


SOLSTICE In the traditional rush towards December 25 that becomes the general preoccupation these days, another very significant date in the month’s calendar generally gets side-lined. Four days before Christmas Day, December 21, marks the winter solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year. One of the ways we are transiently aware of the date is the annual attention given by the media to those who assemble at the site of the Neolithic passage tomb in Newgrange, Co Meath, where the first rays of the dawn light up the inner chamber. The fascination exerted by the sight of the vaguely New Age crowd celebrating the occasion with antique music and ritual is for many of us short-lived; we quickly bend our heads again to the shopping lists and other prosaic litanies of the modern Christmas.

For the ancestral inhabitants of our and other lands, this date compelled more profound attention. It was the moment when winter was born, when the sun died but, with its last flicker of life, ignited a slow and smouldering rebirth. There was birth and death and miracles in the skies then too, long before Bethlehem; the eternal, unfolding miracles of ever so shorter nights upon nights, ever so longer days upon days, until the coldest of seasons shed its austere colours for the verdant starburst that ushered a new-born baby spring into the world.

The sense of winter settling onto its throne, and the secret certainty that it would, over the next horizon, be usurped by a brighter and more beneficent ruling presence, made this a Christmas sort of time for those who lived in the old world before Christmas as we know it was born. They too, marked this time of year with ritual and festival; they too, sought rest among family and friends near the blazing hearth of home, catching their breath, trawling a reflective net of thought through the backwaters of memory and the more speculative springs where future hopes and dreams and fears slowly swirled and eddied.

They rested, and they feasted, and they prayed, and then began again. Something about the end of this particular year makes the resemblance between Solstice and Christmas, and the deep needs and instincts that forge a link through them with the eternal and unvarying essence of our humanity, resonate with a particular poignancy.

We arrive at the conclusion of another year of battle with the Covid-19 pandemic that, with the emergency of the Omicron variant, has intensified rather than abated with the ebbing of 2021. The people of Co Monaghan can take pride in how they have prevailed, stoically, resolutely and with community and altruistic instincts not merely intact but in many cases enhanced, in the face of the formidable challenges that the Coronavirus still throws up at us. But there are few of us who have come through this year and the preceding, Covid-darkened times, entirely unscathed.

Bereavement, isolation, uncertainty, anxiety, worry and sacrifice have woven threads of varying strength and reach in all our lives, uniting us in a common weave of trial as what would once have seemed uncommon distance in our interactions and contact assume the heavy weight of the norm. We need rest and renewal as deeply and as urgently these days as those who lit their bonfires in the distant dark of the past to preserve the ghost of the dying sun and ward off the worst of the tyrant winter’s rages.

A wise man in our midst named Stephen Dalton, in a podcast available on the Facebook page of the Teach na nDaoine Family Resource Centre in Monaghan Town, reflects that traditionally this time of year is about “coming home to ourselves”, recognising that it was a tough year, that we did our best, and now was the time for rest.

Mr Dalton’s advice that we should “drop out of the rush and drop into the hush” in the Christmas and New Year period ahead is something that we could all beneficially embrace and try to enact as an antidote to the extra tides of stress and pressure that can rise up and overwhelm us in the overloud, over-demanding and overcommercialised Christmas that we are so often confronted with when our resources and our resistance are experiencing their own shortest days and longest nights.

If we are of the Christian faith, we can attempt to mine the core, essential meaning of the birth that is celebrated in the religious calendar – the Joint Christmas messages we publish this week from the Bishops of Clogher and the Archbishops of Armagh are illuminating maps towards the message and the meaning that can be obscured by all the glitter and thin glamour the festival now comes wrapped in.

If we are not part of the faith tradition that reveres this time, we can still refresh ourselves from the spiritual well offered by nature and kindness and human contact. We can be good neighbours, looking out for the lonely and the vulnerable, the less privileged and the less moneyed, the isolated and the excluded. Even if we don’t have much to spare in our pockets, we can still offer a helping hand. We can respect and support those working to keep our roads safe and tragedy-free over the holiday period, those ministering to our sick, those maintaining essential services. We can be good fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, companions and friends.

We can even be good to ourselves, gentle on ourselves, for a little while, for a change. We can rest and renew, exchange all that rush for a little, sainted hush. We can, and we should, really celebrate Christmas and the New Year. We deserve that, we deserve the break after such a tough and testing year. And we should also honour the timeless time of Solstice we find ourselves in.

Beyond “Old December’s bareness everywhere”, as Shakespeare saw, the sun is going quietly about the business of being reborn, and there are hints of renewal everywhere, winter fireflies of hope and promise whose glint catches the corners of our eyes if we are watchful for them.The spring’s promise is unfailingly delivered and a new year, and all the hope that comes with it, is only a few, ever-lengthening days away. Let us all keep warm and keep safe until then. We wish all our readers a tranquil Christmas and a new year of fulfilled wishes.

Comments are closed.