You might have heard this before:

A lot of folks think this has been a really dark year.

I can’t disagree with them. I lost a very close friend to suicide, a couple of others to age. People moving away, moving around. Lots of threats and anger and fear. A proposed lynching. An >apply bad label here< >apply insult of choice here< voted into the highest office in the land, dragging in nazis and haters of all sorts. Despair.

And so much hope. So many people standing up, listening to one another, reaching across the borders, listening.  Organizing.  Fighting the black snake in North Dakota and in Florida and Arizona and half a dozen other sites. People feeling the fire awake inside them and fan into life.

I have a ritual I do every year on the Winter Solstice. I’ve done this for maybe a quarter of my life?  Maybe more.

The Longest Night. Cold and sometimes weather-blown and often the time when thoughts turn dark. On that night, as the sun sets, I light a fire and I keep it lit, I tend it, until the sun returns the next day.

Sometimes folks join me. We’ve had some raucous parties and some quiet contemplative times. That last few years, the crowds have thinned. Last year, I spent a number of hours with the person who is no longer with us. I finished the night alone. So there’s that.

There are reasons, about a thousand of them, I can justify the rite. From something the ancients did, to specific tribal rites, to magical significance, but the story I always tell is this.  Once upon a time, somebody was in pain. That person thought their sadness would never end. And somebody else said, there is such little good in this world and they lit a fire for it. They kept that fire through that sadness and that pain and when the dawn came, they pointed it out. And everyone understood.

Hang in there. Fight to preserve the fire. Every night has its end. The sun will come again and the nights will grow shorter. Not all at once and the road may feel harder. After all, the bulk of winter has yet to come. But held within those shortening nights is the promise of spring’s growth and summer’s warmth. We get through it be holding together. We get through by holding on and rising to the challenge.

This Tuesday, December 20th, I light the fire. I’ll hold it until Solstice Day, December 21st until I see the sun. Even though my personal circle is small at the moment and I’ll likely watch it alone, I’m eternally grateful that in the last couple of years, there are others out there in the world who have taken up this task too. There are other circles out there that nurture the flame, that stand against the night and sing to the approaching dawn.

I love all of you. May your solstice be bright and bring beauty and be light.