Monday, December 23, 2013

Celebrations of Light

Warning: Longest Blog Post Ever....

"And God said, 'Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night.  And let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.' And it was so.  And God made the two great lights- the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night- and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness.  And God saw that it was good."  Genesis 1:14-18

If it weren't for homeschooling I don't think I would have appreciated this passage as much as I do now. I believe we were created to depend on the Light of the World and that light is in His Creation. And He wants us to see the light, depend on it, and appreciate it as a fact of His Divine Order. But I didn't know how to do that as a modern gal with electricity, other than as an intellectual exercise. Enter educating kids at home.  Enter researching educational philosophies that jive with my vision of the world and it's potential reflected in my children. Enter in traditions from around the globe and through time.  Now I am starting to get a small idea of how important it is to celebrate the light and for our family, to celebrate The Light. Sometimes adopting celebrations means dabbling here and there across cultures and across belief systems: we take what we can see as Truth and leave the rest.

A link to a Waldorf Circle


The first observation we practice is Martinmas, November 10th. The story of Saint Martin in a nutshell: A Roman soldier riding through the city gates on a cold winter night notices a beggar, near naked and hungry. Martin dismounts from his horse and divides his cloak in two, giving half to the cold man and then taking him to get something to eat. Later that night, Martin has a dream that it was Christ himself that he shared his cloak with and fed. We are reminded that when we serve those deemed the least in the world, we are serving our Lord. Over time this came to be a practice in Martin's example of bringing light to those in darkness, to share what we have with those who have less, to keep light alive. We observe this by making lanterns to carry on a walk- spreading light just as the days seem to be lengthening and getting colder.

We sing:

 Sunlight fast is dwindling, 
My little lamp needs kindling.  
It's beam shines bright on darkest night, 
Dear lantern guide me with your light.

Then we share cider and treats together and discuss how we can help the needy in our community. Parents discuss pacing ourselves as we go into winter and how our inner light gets taxed as the darkness gets thicker. We brainstorm ways to fight the challenges that come with little sun, both mentally and physically.  For our family it is a reminder to rely on The Light, not our own strength.

St. Lucia Day

Our next celebration is Saint Lucia Day. Saint Lucia was a martyr in Italy and a saint adopted by Sweden. The basics of her story is that in the midst of famine and deep winter, she sailed to Sweden bringing food.  In order to have two hands to serve, she put candles on her head. We visit family early in the morning bringing gingerbread scones (our own riff on the traditional Lusekatter buns and gingerbread cookies). Her saint day used to fall closer to winter solstice and was combined with Norse traditions. We have a lot of fun with this day, especially my daughters who love to carry candles (battery powered) and wear the white gown. They bring their good cheer (and sunny morning dispositions, lol) to waken relatives with light in the early morning dark, and with food symbolic of St. Lucia's mission to Sweden. As our kids grow older, I hope they internalize this holiday as a day of self-initiation and serving others.

We sing:

Santa Lucia, 
Thy light is glowing,
Through darkest winter night,
Comfort bestowing.

Dreams float on wings of night,
Comes then the morning light,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia

This picture shows lanterns being used, but we use candles. Link to example of a Solstice Spiral Walk

Winter Solstice

Our friends set up a giant spiral of evergreen branches in their backyard. With a small bonfire surrounded by stumps for seats and the smell of yummy soups drifting from the house, we wait by the spiral allowing each child to take their turn. Carrying an unlit candle inserted in an apple as a holder, each child walks the spiral into the center where a big candle is lit.  They light their candle from the center one and then as they walk out of the spiral, they can choose where to put their candle down. What starts as darkness quickly becomes a mini galaxy of lights as the children's line nears completion. It is truly beautiful and defies capture on my own phone's camera. Afterward we read a poem together:

Down with darkness, up with light,
Up with sunshine, down with Night.

Each of us is one small light
But together we shine bright.

Go away darkest, blackest night,
Go away, give way to light.

In the pagan tradition a Solstice observation would be a prayer to the sun to come back.  For us, it is a reminder of the need for sun, for light, for the Son of God, for the Light of the World to come to earth and save us from darkness. He made the sun and for us the celebration of Solstice is a celebration tied to Christmas, waiting for the birth of the Son, and the creation of the world that depends on Him. The world is beautifully made, but in it's fallen state (impending darkness) all of Creation groans, waiting " be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God...And not only creation, but we ourselves, who... groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." Romans 8:21-23. Winter Solstice can be a reminder that we wait for redemption by our Redeemer. This is an interesting read: The Mercy Blog

Advent wreath
 Sample observance

Throughout December we light candles every Sunday around our Advent wreath. I am just discovering the rich traditions around celebrating the season of Advent, so our observance is very simple. We have a wreath with four candles on the outside and one in the center (to be lit on Christmas). The 4 outer candles represent: Hope, Preparation, Joy, and Love. For each corresponding week of Advent we light the candle of the week and the previous weeks until all are lit on Christmas. We talk about our hope and anticipation of a Savior, how we can prepare our hearts for him, the joy we have because of Him, and the love He gives us. We light each candle with a verse:

Light the Advent candle one, now the waiting has begun
Hope fill our hearts upon our way, time to think of Christmas day
Candle, candle burning bright, shining in the darkest night
Candle, candle burning bright, fill our hearts with Christmas light.

Light the Advent candle two, think of humble shepherds who
Heard from angels, wondrous sight, love the child was born that night.
Candle, candle burning bright, in the darkness of the night
Candle, candle burning bright, fill our hearts with Christmas light

Light the Advent candle three, think of joyful harmony
Angels singing “Peace on Earth”, at the Blessed Saviour’s birth.
Candle, candle burning bright, shining in the darkest night
Candle, candle burning bright, fill our hearts with Christmas light.

Light the Advent candle four, Peace on Earth forevermore
Christ child in a stable born, Gift of love that Christmas morn.
Candle, candle burning bright, shining in the darkest night.
Candle, candle burning bright, fill our hearts with Christmas light.

After Christmas is a time of quiet and slow waiting for the days to get longer.  Candlemas or Ground Hog's day marks the halfway point between Solstice and the Vernal Equinox. It deserves a post too.  We will always be celebrating it because it somebody's birthday and she definitely deserves a write up! She represents much joy and light to us through Grant's darker months of diagnosis and surgery. God saw that she was very good to send to us!

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