Grief and Renewal at Solstice

This winter more than ever, Solstice teaches us that no end is ever final.

This article originally appeared on Beliefnet in December, 2001.

In some sense, all winter holidays of temperate climates are about Solstice, celebrations of light emerging from the dark. Outside, it's cold, the sun is low, the days are short. Inside is warmth and light and family and abundance. And so Jews light candles, one more each night until the Menorah is ablaze, and Christians string up lights, decorate trees, and celebrate the birth of Jesus. Pagans celebrate the sun's rebirth on Solstice, the longest night and shortest day of the year, but also the time when the days begin to grow longer again.

The winter holidays are supposed to be a time of joy, and above all, of family. But this year, for many, many people, the holidays will instead be a time of grief.

It's only three months since the attacks of September 11 left thousands of people dead. Their families, their friends, their loved ones will not be feeling joyful this season.

Since September, thousands more have lost their jobs, their livelihoods. The season of frantic shopping cannot be a happy one for them.


Hundreds of others have lost their liberty-"disappeared" by the Immigration Department, held without contact with their families, without their names being released, without access to legal counsel. For their families, the holidays will bring anguish and fear.

And all of us have suffered losses: the loss of our sense of security, the loss of confidence in our democracy, the loss of a thousand activities we were pursuing that have been changed in the last months. Many of us cannot ignore the loss of life in Afghanistan, the growing violence in the Middle East, the threats of new bombings and of unleashed nuclear weapons.

As a nation, we are not skilled at grieving. We find it more comfortable to be angry than to be sad. Our grief at the events of 9/11 was truncated early and transformed into the frantic activity of revenge. But grief remains.

The Solstice has much to teach us about grief. At Solstice, we descend into the dark. We can allow ourselves to face those emotions and impulses we generally keep hidden. We can feel the pain and touch the depths, for we know that the time will soon come to rise again, that darkness is always followed by increasing light. Solstice teaches us that everything is a cycle, a dynamic process, and no end is ever final.

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