Cycles of night and light invite attention and intention | INTERFAITH

By Rev. Barbara W. ten Hove

I find that friends and family in the eastern United States often don’t realize that Seattle is farther north than all of the great state of Maine.

Living way up here, we experience the last weeks of each calendar year as very dark very early, especially if we’ve ever spent the winter almost anywhere else in this country.

Not unlike for my ancestors from the British Isles (farther north still), living here forces me to notice that the planet is indeed in extreme motion. As the days get shorter and darker, we anticipate the earth’s journey back into a place of increasing brightness again.

It is into this dark season that holiday lights emerge. In and around our house we eagerly join the happy community movement to hang strings of bright bulbs that spark up the dark a bit. Time to get out the boxes and fire them up again! It’s very much an annual ritual to be observed. (And we unabashedly leave our modest contribution up all the way through almost equally dark January.)

I find it fascinating that so many religious traditions have found ways of celebrating light at their dark time of year.

In one helpful children’s book called “Lights of Winter” by Heather Conrad, for instance, we learn about winter celebrations that happen around the world, from the oldest (Zagmuk, from ancient Mesopotamia) to perhaps the newest (Kwanzaa, begun in 1966).

It should come as no surprise that people hunger for ritual and community-building when days are short and nights long and cold. Activities such as lighting candles, building bonfires and decorating with strung lights can brighten our spirits and help us illumine the night.

In our congregation, we honor the many varied ways people have celebrated and still celebrate during the long winter.

Some years we recognize Hanukkah and join our Jewish brothers and sisters in remembering a great story of standing up for religious freedom 2000 years ago. Some years we acknowledge Kwanzaa, a modern religious ritual emerging from the African and African American tradition that celebrates community and responsibility.

Most years we celebrate the Winter Solstice (as we will again this year on Sunday, Dec. 22), adding our voices to others who sing and dance and light candles in honor of the sun’s return. And every year we acknowledge the Christmas story, particularly on Christmas Eve, when we tell an ancient story and light candles in the otherwise inky eventide.

What about you? How do you honor this dark season? There is much to love about the winter, including all the ways we can help light shine in the darkness, literally and metaphorically, bringing the warmth of a shared glimmer and sparkle into our corners of the world.

I am glad I live in the north where summers are long but winters are, too. I do not waste energy wishing away the winter darkness, but welcome it for the varied celebrations it inspires, the brilliant stars overhead in the early evening now, and the hundreds of stories and songs from many generations and cultures that heartily animate a time rich with both challenge and joy.

In this winter season, may you find fulfilling opportunities to bring light into the darkness, connecting you to the planet’s cycles and the people around you.

Rev. Barbara W. ten Hove is co-minister (with spouse Jaco) at Cedars Unitarian Universalist Church (, which meets at 10 a.m. Sundays at The Island School, 8553 NE Day Road.


We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.

Read the Sep 23
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates