Most Americans - most people worldwide - celebrating a winter holiday will overlook the centuries old traditions surrounding the natural phenomenon of Winter Solstice. No matter what other cultural or religious traditions people embrace, we would do well to celebrate the relationship of the sun and the earth, the foundation of our existence. This year at about 7:20 PM Eastern Standard Time on December 21 the tilt of the earth's axis will bring the northern hemisphere to its farthest distance from the sun resulting in the shortest possible span of daylight. From that point on daylight will increase until the height of summer.
The winter celebration is all about light. For decades we've mounted bigger and bigger displays of electric lights. They're beautiful and I love them. But I'm increasingly returning to the centuries old traditions of candles and fire. It doesn't take much thought to stick a battery operated candle-looking light in the window. And I like the sense of welcome it gives me when I come home after dark. But lighting a candle requires some attention and gives me a much more satisfying opportunity to reflect on the meaning of light in my life.
Making ice candles has become an important detail in my Solstice preparation. It requires paying attention to the outside temperature. (Well, I suppose I could make them in the freezer - but that would defeat half the purpose) The candle molds have to be outside just long enough to freeze partially. So, it all depends on how cold it is and I have to watch them somewhat closely to get it right.
This year Solstice nearly coincides with the New Moon. So, it will be very dark. Just as, despite my best intentions, I usually failed to go to Midnight Mass, now I generally fail to manage a Solstice bonfire. Maybe this year...