by Carol Masters, Becketwood Member
The year’s earliest sunset is not on the winter solstice. (In our northern region, the earliest sunset, 4:31 p.m., occurred December 15.) As we move toward the end of the year, we are already inching toward more light—two or three minutes more sunlight at day’s end—and on January 5 the latest sunrise will occur. Clouds may obscure the gradual increase of brightness, but we’re aware that spirits lift with more light.
Holiday traditions of decorating and celebrating the season with fire and light are ancient.
For ancient peoples, life could be hard in the weeks leading up to the winter solstice, with struggles to stay warm and find enough food. Light became an important symbol of Christmas and other winter holidays.
Ancient Romans celebrated the solstice with a focus on children: A festival called Saturnalia began December 17, followed by Juvenalia, a day to celebrate youth. Hopi and Zuni Indians spent weeks preparing for the Soyal ceremony, to ceremonially bring the sun back from its long winter slumber (Wikipedia).
Light is also a central theme for the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, which celebrates a Jewish victory over the ancient Greeks more than 2,100 years ago. Jewish warriors (Maccabees) drove the Greek army from the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and lit the menorah lamp. They had enough oil for only one day but, miraculously, the flame lasted for eight days. Today, some African Americans light the seven candles of a kinara for Kwanzaa, a celebration of African culture (Washington Post).
Along with light, human beings have traditionally brought music into their sacred celebrations. Certainly, in December Becketwood offers unequalled opportunities to listen, enjoy, and participate in the music of the season, from classical to “traditional” or popular. The first week of December brought the Tower Hill Brass Sextet, with its gleaming brass instruments and bright tones to convey the joy of the season, and (the next day!) about two dozen members of the renowned Minnesota Chorale (including Manager Debbie Richman) with traditional and new holiday arrangements and encouragement to sing along.
Tim Perry, principal cellist with the St. Paul Civic Symphony and Sue Ruby, pianist and faculty member at MacPhail, returned to Becketwood with less familiar but virtuoso and breathtaking performances of Poulenc, Villa-Lobos, Bloch and other composers. More choral music by the Becketwood Choir ushered in the third week of Advent with a Service of Lessons and Carols, inviting participation from the audience, and on the 18th of December, the young voices from the Central Chamber Singers dazzled us with their bright and dynamic arrangements.
So, in the dark days of December, at Becketwood we are fortunate to have such enjoyment for our eyes—and ears—while we wait for the light to come.