Fire / Feu



Le solstice d’hiver : des choses prennent fin alors que d’autres ne font que commencer

"Nous, humains modernes, sommes devenus divorcés des rythmes de la vie qui nous entoure. Nous avons tendance à penser d’une façon linéaire : l’été mène à l’automne, ensuite à l’hiver et éventuellement le printemps; une progression linéaire d’un point à l’autre. Par contre, le monde naturel fonctionne d’une manière cyclique et nous avons perdu contact avec ces cycles."

Les arbres, qui, au beau milieu de l’hiver, semblent si stériles et désolés, contiennent tout de même le potentiel d’une vie nouvelle dans le bout de chaque branche. Quoique les bourgeons sont encore petits et durs, ils sont tout de même là et l’observateur averti peut les voir.

Aux alentours du 21 décembre, alors que nous soulignons le passage du solstice d’hiver, prenez le temps d’observer la vie qui vous entoure, à la fois silencieuse, résolues, mais pulsant pour nous tous. Tout comme Hardy observait il y a plusieurs années de cela, il existe un "espoir béni" autour de nous; il nous reste à en prendre conscience.


The Winter Solstice:
A Time of Endings & Beginnings

Mike Lushington
Conservation Council of New Brunswick
October 2001


hat did the ancient gods Osiris, Baal, Attis, Adonis, Helios, Apollo, Dionysus, Mithras, Balder and Frey all have in common? More interestingly, what did they all have in common with Jesus, the major figure of Christianity? All of these gods, representatives of religions throughout the ancient Middle East and northern Europe, celebrated births on, or about December 25th. All of them were referred to, in their own particular traditions, as "The Light of the World", "Sun of Righteousness", and "Saviour". The Romans referred to December 25th as "Dies Natalis Solis Invictus" – the Day of the Birth of the Undefeated Sun.

Winter Forest Scene
(photo: Communications NB)

On December 21st (or thereabouts, depending on the particularities of the calendar on any given year), we mark the time of the Winter Solstice. In the Northern Hemisphere, this is the shortest day of the year, a time of darkness and of the oncoming snow and cold of the winter season. It is a time of death, of stillness, of quiet, when the voices of nature are silent and the very pulse of life is at its lowest ebb. Many birds have migrated; only a few hardy chickadees and jays remain to remind us that life persists even in the darkness of these days. Most animals have retreated to snug burrows to hibernate, to wait in quietude and sleep for the return of the spring. Annual plants have vanished; only their seeds remain, dormant in the frozen soil for another year, while perennials stand silent sentinel, barren branches waving in the cold winds, seemingly bereft of any trace of life. The very water stands frozen and still, while everywhere the snow and wind rule supreme in a world in which the germ of life seems stilled by the onslaught of winter.

(photo: D. Christie)

"Only a few hardy
chickadees and
jays remain to
remind us that
life persists even
in the darkness
of these days."

And yet, it is a time of turning. If December 21st is the day of least sunlight in the year, it follows that December 22nd offers a bit more, and December 23rd, still more. By the 25th, the pattern is noticeable and so the ancients celebrated, even in the depths of the darkness, the promise of the life to return. Thomas Hardy wrote a poem, slightly over one hundred years ago, which summarizes the depression of modern humanity, and the sense of hope in the natural world, over this time of year:

The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate,
   When frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
   The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
   Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted night
   Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
   The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
   The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
   Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
   Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
   The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
   Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
   In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
   Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
   Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
   Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
   His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
   And I was unaware.

The more time I spend in the fields and woods around my home, the more I become aware that we, as modern humans, have become divorced from the rhythms of life around us. We tend to think linearly: summer leads to fall, to winter, and eventually on to spring, in a progression from one point to the next. The natural world, on the other hand, works in cycles and we have lost sight of those cycles. Just as Hardy laments, we look out on the landscape on a cold, hard day in December and can see nothing to promise us of the spring that can seem so distant. And yet, that promise is right there, at hand, for the one who rediscovers the rhythms of life.

Those same trees that seem so barren and still have, at the tip of every branch, the potential for new life. Although the buds are still small and hard, they are there, noticeable to the careful observer. Our small birds whisk about in the branches, gleaning life even on the hardest of days. If one happens to be out and around in mid-day, one can hear the quiet whisper and song of the chickadees, even as the snowstorm threatens.

Light reaches in under the spruces, providing havens for hares and even moose, partridges and squirrels, all taking advantage of the touch of warmth that promises life and light to come.

And with the coming of the dark, the careful observer can notice the northward march of the setting sun, even in those hard, cold days of January – each one lasting a little longer than the previous one, each one sending its subtle message of rebirth to those who care to see. Our ancestors knew and appreciated this; for them the coming of the winter solstice was not a time of mourning but of renewal.

We celebrate Christmas with lights and fires and carols, with feasts and merrymaking, with colour and laughter – all manifestations of life about to spring forth once again. In this, we are at one with our ancient ancestors (who had never heard of Jesus Christ, but who knew, firsthand, about cold, dark, and snow), but we need to carry this attitude over into the weeks afterwards. It is a renewal of the spirit to take a walk or to ski into the woods on a bright, cold day in January. Take a few minutes to watch the life around you, quiet and purposeful, but pulsating for all. As Hardy observed all those years ago, there is some "blessed hope" out there; it rests for us to become aware of it.