There are more pleasurable stops on The Wheel of the Year, but the day that always gives me the greatest private joy is this one: The Winter Solstice.
Tonight is the longest night of the year, and the coldest months still lie ahead of us. Yet our ancient grandmothers and grandfathers found hope in this darkness, telling stories that recognized that when things seem to be at their worst, hope is stirring. The days will just keep getting longer from tomorrow until Midsummer, six months from today.
In pagan mythology, the god is conceived tonight, in the middle of the longest darkness. He will grow in the womb until his birth at the spring equinox. He reaches sexual maturity in May (with the often-bawdy observance of Beltane) and the full power of adulthood at the summer solstice. We'll celebrate the abundance of the god's mature life with distinctly different harvest festivals in August and September, the latter marking the start of his final decline into death (a third harvest festival, remembered by moderns as Halloween).
In the two months since this year's god expired, the earth has recharged itself, preparing for the next cycle of growth. The weather will get colder before it gets warmer -- but the ancients call on us to remember that this is the way hope works. The sun hits the comeback trail tomorrow, and the god grows in the hidden belly of the earth.
It's been a hard year for a lot of people.