Disclaimer: "Part One" in the title of this blog post in no way guarantees that there will be a part two, much less a part three or four.
December 22 and the sun is up, on the day after the winter solstice, the longest night of the year.
It did not come up in a big, glorious sunrise. There's light, but it's December grey. The white window frame, the black tangle of tree branches against the half-tone sky — these could be a nineteenth century photo. There is no color in them at all.
What to make then of the soft multicolored lights on the Christmas tree? I thought twice before turning the tree on this morning. Its lights belong to an evening celebration. It seems like a leftover party guest when it's on in the morning, dressed up in evening lights, a little awkward and out of place as I drink bitter black coffee and read the morning news on the laptop.
A friend gave me a pair of bayberry candles last night, in a box with an artful red ribbon. The candles came with a scrap of paper that says burning these down to the nub on the night of the winter solstice will bring good luck in the coming year. True? Or just a way to sell candles?
A search of "bayberry candles solstice" brought me to the James T. Callow Folklore Archive with pages and pages of field notes about Christmas customs involving candles, bayberry and others. Some were about good luck, some about hospitality, some about lighting the way for the Christ Child. The Google search also turned up sites on pagan Yule-tide customs, which is what you'd expect when solstice is in the search box. And of course, there were many hits for sellers of bayberry candles.
I lit the candles last night, on an impulse, because there were tall candlesticks still hanging around in the living room from the Thanksgiving dinner table. Blew them out, though, after an hour or two, before they were down to the nub. Seems a waste to burn them up in one night.
There's no extravagance in keeping the Christmas tree lit all day--maybe a tiny bump in the electric bill to keep the electric candles lit in the windows at night, to power the string of energy-efficient LED's around the back door and the lights in the kitchen window. The natural light outside is harsh in the daytime, and so is the cold.
Candlelight, on the other hand, is soft and warm. Have I jinxed myself by not giving it a chance to bring in luck, to welcome peace, hope, God?
There are many colored nights ahead, and many grey mornings.