How we React to Seasonal Change
Festivals of Lights: Finding Health in the Darkness
by Bethlyn Gerard
December in the Northern Hemisphere has days that grow increasingly shorter. Nights fall earlier. Ever heard the Simon and Garfunkle lyric, ‘hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again…’? We are in the darkest time of year. Species react differently to this seasonal change. Birds fly south, bears hibernate, humans often decorate. Several major religions include stories involving light during this darkest of months. A lamp burns without oil for 8 days, a star shining in the East gives guidance, candles and fires (replaced in modern ceremonies by electric lights) teach us to respect the relationship between light and darkness.
The winter solstice marks the day when the amount of daylight is equal to the length of night. Until then, the amount of darkness increases. This year that day is December 21, 2012. After that, the days gradually get longer letting in more light.
We could embrace these shorter days with additional time spent indoors as an opportunity to reflect, rest and renew. Do you have rituals that help usher something new from the darkness into the light? This time of year my family loves to hang strands of lights. We also like to pile in the car and drive through neighborhoods looking at decorative light displays. When I was younger, part of holiday preparations involved stretching rows of lights across the living room floor in order to check to see if all the bulbs were working. If one bulb was broken, the rest of the string beyond that bulb was dark until the broken bulb was replaced. Holiday lights now come with two strings of electric wires twisted together. This provides a bypass around a broken bulb and keeps the rest of the ‘downstream lights’ lit.
That small technological image may hold a large lesson about modern family dynamics In close knit families and communities, when one becomes disconnected, the group realizes the impact on other members. Our modern American life (with its abundance of technological distractions and scheduled events) may make it easy to bypass the darker emotions of our near ones. The National Institute of Mental Health describes depression related to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The pineal gland in the center of the brain responds to light. The decrease of natural sunlight in the winter months can disrupt healthy sleep cycles resulting in mood changes. Young girls tend to be the most susceptible. You can learn signs to look for in yourself and your loved ones at www.nimh.nih.gov and www.kidshealth.org.
Maybe that’s why so many holiday decorations and worship services involve lights. Physically and emotionally our spirits are lifted by such twinkling sights. In these seasonally darker days, may your family find fun ways to recognize that festivals of lights actually improve our health. Happy Holidays!
Bethlyn is a parent and custodial step-parent familiar with the grief and stress of family transitions that include illness, relocations, divorce, blending households and nurturing differently abled learners. Her career as a public accountant led her to the ‘low tech, high touch’ health care she considers to be our most valuable investment. For more information and free resources www.5starhealing.com