If you look at all of the religious holidays celebrated this time of year, they are all about light and bounty. We put lights up, we light candles, we decorate (with useful resources!), we feast and we gather with family and friends,. There's the notion of "goodwill towards men" and providing for the needy/less fortunate - aka, being charitable.
This particular cycle, I have been contemplating two aspects especially: the darkness and the seasonal goodwill - and I would like to share my thoughts with you.
The Benefit of the Darkness:
This year, the Solstice coincided with a New Moon - the darkest part of the moon cycle. So not only was the night extra long, it was extra dark. I found myself in the days leading up to Yule being under the weather, and not accomplishing a lot. Sure, I got some stuff done, but I wasn't as productive as I had hoped I would be. It just wasn't possible with my body refusing to cooperate. It occurred to me that I could either be upset and depressed about that (coupled with the lack of light bringing me down) - or I could see it as a time of hibernation and renewal. Much like a field lays fallow or the darkness of an egg or cocoon as a new being develops, this period of rest is a time of recharging, of preparation for the new year.
With all the stress that society lays down upon us regarding work, money, family, and all the "supposed-to's" - we often forget to take care of ourselves, which not only damages us physically, but also emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. The darkness isn't to be feared as cold and desolate. Instead, think about it as warm and embracing. Be kind to yourself, and remember it's not being selfish to care of yourself. If you don't care of yourself, you can't be there for anyone else. And you will be prepared to appreciate the light even more when it returns.
One thing that has long bugged me is the disproportionate focus on charity this time of year - when people need food, shelter, clothing all year long. That we should also remember our family and friends all year round and cherish them - instead of when society or religion dictates an extra focus.
This year, I thought more about it all and had some realizations - and it comes back to that understanding that Winter is just beginning, with at least three more months of hard weather ahead of us. Why do we gather and feast now? Well, historically we are celebrating the harvest of the Fall and prepare to face Winter. Winter is a time of death, loss, and hunger, and so many of our customs have to do with not only appeasing Nature/The Gods, but also making good memories with those close to us in case the Winter takes us/them. It's the time where we would give to others in our villages whose harvest was not as successful. It's not only about celebrating what's good and taking care of ourselves, but also those around us - to reduce the loss, to preserve families and traditions. That we remind ourselves and each other of what's truly important.
As we've moved away from villages, hometowns, and family hearths over the centuries, we've become disconnected from that sense of community survival. We aren't staring Death directly in the face or not seeing that others aren't doing as well (or perhaps we're experiencing either quietly, stoically, without making fuss about it). But I do see that often those who are in the midst of struggle or face those terrible eyes are far more generous with what they have more than anyone else. They still follow the pattern of community survival and understand what is most important. They know it's not the stuff that matters, it's our interactions.
If we give to others, are we doing it to get a good "fill-in-the-blank" award or to somehow hopefully ward off the same from happening to us, to make them the other? Surely, all help is valid, but the more we think about how we are all interwoven, the more we truly help others (and ourselves). It's not we vs. them, it's all of us together in this existence.
So when we think about "goodwill" towards others, think about it as a reminder that we're all connected. We're all here in the dark, fighting fears, growing our cocoons, preparing for the light. That we're conscious of the hope that when we come out on the other side of it, we're even more appreciative and thankful for who and what we have.
We can be terrible to each other, but we have far more potential to be kind, understanding, and full of love. Start first in finding your own light, and then share it from there.