It is significant that Christmas is celebrated by us at the winter solstice–the point of shortest daylight and longest night. The nighttime represents our unconscious–the dark, hidden part of us that must birth the new being within us–the Christ into our personality. This birth comes only after a period of gestation within the unconscious womb. The long dark winter represents the long gestation period. The new birth occurs when the darkness is the longest, out of which comes the dawn of a new life. Only after the longest, darkest period in our lives can this new birth occur.
In the mythological story of the soul–the Christian Nativity narrative–the conception takes place in the spring, the time when nature exhibits her greatest fertility. Birth takes place in the season when nature manifests no sign of life. Most vegetation seems dead. Even light–the source of life–wanes to the point where the days are shortest and the nights are longest. It seems that light is being swallowed up in darkness, that life is being consumed by death. But out of this darkness–this womb of winter–comes something new and wonderful–hoped for, longed for, desired above all, yet not dared expected.
Darkness also represents the unawareness of our conscious to the light within us–the abundant life Jesus said he came to give. Jesus is the physical person who represents the spiritual person of God that wants to be experienced within each of us. The darkness of our conscious awareness to spiritual matters is such that it does not understand, expect, or even “have a clue” to the inner light that continues to shine in our soul even though we do not see it, do not experience it. We must finally experience our fill of darkness–become sick and tired–even despairing of looking for some sort of light to warm and illumine us. We must finally come to the “dark night of the soul” and cry out for light in order for God to be able to make us see and experience the light he placed within us before we were born–the light he begot us with–his own holiness.
Winter is the worst time to have a baby–cold weather, lots of germs and disease going around, little sunshine. It is difficult for a newborn to get a good start physically. Winter is the best time for a baby to be born for non-physical reasons: it puts a ray of hope and joy in the midst of our bleak mid-winter–a ray of human light into the short days and long nights of the year’s end. In the winter of our lives, when the days are short, light has faded from our lives. We need new light, a new kind of light.
How does birth of a newborn connect with the winter solstice? Think small. On the shortest day of the year, in the smallest amount of light, is born the smallest unit of human life. Solstice and the birth of Christ come together to point us to a celebration, not only of what has happened, is, and will be in terms of the patterns of earth and sun and a special baby born one winter’s night in a cattle stall, but of something that is designed to occur within our individual lives.
Not only do we celebrate the mid-winter’s lengthening of days and the Christ-Child as the “Light of the World.” We also celebrate the possibility of the coming of a kind of light the kindles a fire within us on the altar of our hearts–a fire that we shall never stop tending because of all that is provides for us: light, warmth, life, joy.