The winter solstice–the darkest day and longest night of the year–is December 21. This is a perfect opportunity to introduce children to one of the juicy paradoxes of Advent. Darkness and Light, Light and Darkness walk hand in hand with us during Advent and every day of the year–literally and metaphorically. Darkness can be scary and unpredictable. We can’t see in the dark. Imaginations run wild with monsters under the bed and boogeymen in the closet. Criminals lurk in the shadows. Strangers appear even stranger in the darkness.
But darkness can also be cozy, a time to gather at tables, firesides, and bedsides at the end of a long day. We snuggle under blankets; we sleep in the dark. Our bodies grow and heal in the darkness. Dreams flourish in our sleeping hours. Plants and animals also rejuvenate at night. The same imagination that scares kids and adults alike can be ripe with mystery. Evening and darkness are often the backdrop for romance. Christmas lights and decorations, barely visible in the daylight, shine and perform at night. Stars provide beauty and direction at night.
Advent and the Winter Solstice provide a framework for respecting and celebrating both the terror and the triumph of the darkness. Daylight will grow longer and longer as the days pass the solstice. Into the darkness of a conflicted and hurting world comes the Light of the World. The darkness of Christmas night shimmers with the birth of Jesus.
Here are a few simple ways to mark the winter solstice in the midst of Advent:
♦Set up a small table or place for a child to experience light in the midst of the darkness all alone. Place some battery-operated candles on the table with an old-fashioned 3-7 minute egg timer. Invite your child to be quiet for those minutes as they watch the grains of sand fall and mark off the moments of time. Another way to create the same experience is to provide them with private time by the Christmas lighted tree in an otherwise dark room. As a kid I thought this was a magical time.
♦Gather the members of your household and find the darkest place in the house—the basement, a big closet, a place with room-darkening shades. Try to remove all signs of light. Sit in a circle together in the dark room. Be silent for a minute or two. Then ask the question: “What do you notice about sitting in the dark?” Then try sitting in the dark again, this time holding hands. Ask the “noticing” question again. Then light a candle; be silent, and ask the “noticing” question again.
♦Go outside and look at the stars. If it’s cold, bundle up the kids in pajamas and blankets. Look up and out. Ask children what they see in the sky and around them. What is different from what they see in the daytime? Paying attention and watching are two of the habits we cultivate during Advent. If you know some of the planets, stars, and constellations, point them out.
♦Create a breath prayer specifically for the Winter Solstice and the last days of Advent. A breath prayer is a short, two-part prayer. One part is a name for God; the second part is a petition or request. Here are some examples: “Loving Jesus, come quickly.” “God of light, take away my fear.” “Holy One, shine in my heart.” Keep the prayer at the tip of your tongue and the pocket of your heart, so you can say it all through the day and night. This ancient prayer form is a way to “pray without ceasing.”
♦Teach a simple darkness/light song. Several of the Taize Chants are easy to learn: The Lord is my Light And Within Our Darkest Night. These songs are like musical breath prayers.Here is a link to other Advent/Winter Solstice “paperless” songs from Music That Makes Community.