I'm writing this late in the evening of December 21st. The sun set a long while ago, and though I don't know a a lot about Pagan beliefs, I do know that the Winter Solstice is associated with both bonfires and with Yule logs burning on the hearth.
It's a feast that uses fire and light to mark the turning of the wheel.
It's also the sixth night of Hanukkah, another holiday associated with light, and it happens to be the night of the annual Lessons & Carols concert at St. James Cathedral. I went to the concert, since my daughter sings in Jubliate!, the young women's ensemble. Each piece of lovely choral music was bracketed by a reading and a congretational hymn, and the gospel was from John, Chapter 1...
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 The same was in the beginning with God.
3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
More light for this longest night of the year.
I grew up Catholic, and have been a church musician since way back, so the stories in both the readings and the music were wonderfully familiar. The angel Gabriel visiting a young girl. Mary and Joseph and the baby and the manger. Three wise men from the east following a star.
Great tidings of joy for the whole world.
Every holiday has stories associated with it, and every person who celebrates has their own favorites, their own experience with the traditions. Some things cross over, though, like fire and light on a cold December night.
And because even in tradition, there's a place for something new, I'm sharing a recording of "There Is No Rose" by Benjamin Britten, from A Ceremony of Carols. This is an old medieval poem set to music written in the 1940s. I've never sung this piece before - not sure I've ever even heard it before, but it might be my new favorite arrangement of the text. The young women from Jubilate! did a lovely job with it last night, though this isn't them in the recording. Enjoy!
I hope you have a lovely holiday, however you choose to celebrate.