The ending of daylight savings time and the onset of autumn are met with different reactions depending on what is happening in your life. The change in season brings cooler temperatures, brilliant fall colors and beginning thoughts of holiday plans. It can be an exciting time as the days shorten, but for those who are grieving the loss of a loved one, the holidays bring the reality of “the empty chair” at the table.
The absolute shortest day of the year, the day with the fewest daylight hours occurs on the official first day of winter, December 21, referred to in astronomical circles as the Winter Solstice. What this means is for those of us living in the northern hemisphere, the tilt of the earth on December 21 somehow affects the movement of the sun across the earth. Not being a scientist, I don’t really understand the complexities of it. I just know it’ll be dark by close to 5:00 pm on that day.
Being a pastor, I do understand how a day with so little sunshine can affect our emotions. In religious circles Winter Solstice is referred to as the longest night and many churches have candlelight services to mark the longest night. There is much symbolism to be found in this the shortest day/longest night as we often experience grief as darkness. Finding our way out of the darkness of grief means searching for points of light to encourage us along the path of healing. It is easy to see how a service of candlelight can break through the darkness of the longest night to bring us hope.
The good news is that the very next day after Winter Solstice – the shortest day of the year – the sun shines a tiny infinitesimal bit more. Every day thereafter, bits of sunshine are added to the day and before long, hints of spring emerge as buried bulbs of hyacinths and crocus find new life to break through the ground.
If the longest night symbolically represents the period of acute grief, we can awaken on December 22 with the promise that each day forward brings more light to our lives. As we find times of comfort and we walk the path of healing, the lengthening days will bring hope and hope is the thing that moves us forward.