As we come together to celebrate the Winter Solstice in all its manifestations – whether it is the birth of Christ, Hanukkah, Santa Claus, Kwanzaa, or the marking of the darkest day in the year – consider what all these various celebrations have in common. What is being celebrated in the the nativity scene, or in the bright decorations on the front of the houses, or even in the burning of candles? To find the answer, consider this: what does the winter solstice mark? It marks the shortest day and the longest night. It marks the pinnacle of darkness. What is most needed in darkness? Light.
To understand what is being celebrated, first imagine there was no Winter Solstice celebration. What if there was no Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Pagan celebration? The time in mid-December would be marked by cold, loneliness, and ultimately hopelessness, all gifts of darkness and dark times. And so comes the birth of the Light upon the world, the singular force that can overcome darkness.
The virgin birth of a child, the lighting of candles or even the celebration of decorating one's abode with bright fixtures depict the symbol of light. Light is symbolic of many different things in and of itself, including love, fire/heat, knowledge, wisdom, and understanding (enlightenment). All of these can be combined and summed up in one word .... HOPE.
The nativity scene marks the birth of the Divine Word and Light in the physical world. It was said to be foretold in the stars and recognized by Wise Men. It is safe to say that the birth of Jesus represented the birth of Light. This seed of light would grow to do miracles, comfort those in need, and save countless others lost in despair and hopelessness. Also recognized by the lighting of the menorah, light is a symbol of the miraculous nature of the divine. It is through fire that the Divine speaks to men; it is through the flame that it is seen.
Though unknowingly, people who decorate their houses with brightly colored fixtures are actually doing work in the physical world to represent something greatly symbolic. Their light source marks the way for those who may be lost in darkness. Again, without the bright lights of the holiday, traveling in the world could be difficult for a weary man. Each house decorated with lights represents a beacon of hope, a star to guide the way. This light can represent the hope of warmth, comfort, and direction.
The celebration of the Winter Solstice in the form of Santa Claus can be summed up in two words...miraculous love. The giving of gifts to children and those who are in need is commonly done in a unique way. These deeds are often done with an air of mystery. This mystique is very important as it represents the divine love that can come from anywhere and in any form. Everything from the secret Santa to the surprise tip for the waitress is an example of light being shared in a mystical and secret surprise type of way. The essence of Santa is that there is a mystical presence who knows your wants and will fulfill them in the midst of your darkest times. All you have to do is believe and do the right thing. Those who receive special gifts during the time of the Winter Solstice were in the right place and were doing the right thing. Or, as the story goes, they were being good, not naughty. Those who do right to others will be rewarded in the darkest times while those who don't won't. Isn't Santa known for coming down chimneys? What do chimney's indicate? Fire, another manifestation of light.
In the middle of December, the world can be a cold, dark and lonely place with little to look forward to. During these times, one could easily succumb to the darkness of life. Blessedly, the cry of man was heard and he was gifted with Light, a manifestation that brought warmth to body and spirit, a gift of such magnitude that it must be celebrated, worshiped and ultimately mimicked. Rituals during the Winter Solstice celebrate the spark of Light that is present in the coldest, loneliest, and darkest times. This Light is celebrated by those who believe in the nativity scene, or light their yards to mark the times, or light a candle at night. It is this Light that brings man warmth, comfort, and direction. It is exemplified by a virgin birth, stars being seen in the fields, and miracles. The divine gift of the Light is seen as a flame, felt as warmth, thought of as knowledge, and perceived as hope. It is a gift truly befitting a king and his kingdom.