POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Dec 22, 2012
Instead of dreading the darkest days of the year, Neolithic pagans came to realize that the winter months would usher in longer days of sunlight — so vital to their sustenance — and they started celebrating the coming light with traditions still treasured during Christmas today.
Just a few days before its homage to Christmas, the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu is holding winter solstice services at 9:30 and 11 p.m. Sunday. Toe-tapping, lyrical music will be provided by Kevin Craven and Celtic Waves, who will use acoustic instruments, including whistles, flutes and the bodhran, or Irish drum, said music director Karen Valasek.
Genna Coursey, an event organizer, said, "The service is celebrating the changing of the seasons, the dark turning into light, the rebirth of the light and the opportunity to come anew."
The shortest day of 2012 in the Northern Hemisphere, called the winter solstice, occurred Friday; it's the turning point in the Western calendar when days start getting longer.
Co-organizer Jean Brokish said in keeping with the Unitarian Universalist principles to, among other things, affirm the spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions and live in harmony with nature, the church is recognizing pagan religious beliefs of people dependent on the sun and cycles of nature for their livelihood.
On a deeper level of honoring life cycles, the service "offers an opportunity for personal reflections on what your life has been like and what kind of things you want to bring forth into the next year, which is very similar to our New Year's resolutions," Brokish said.
The church's emblematic chalice will be renamed the "sun candle" for this occasion, Brokish said. "Everybody will light their own personal candle representing the light coming back into their lives, and what that means to them," he said.
The winter solstice is "the beginning of the solar year, so it really is a new year," Coursey said. "It's considered the rebirth of the sun. And it's not coincidence that they consider the Son of God being born at that time, as there have been many sons of gods born at that time of the year in many different religions," noting the play on the words "son" and "sun." She cited the Egyp- tian goddess Isis and her son Horus, the Persian god Mithras and the Japanese goddess Amaterasu, all symbols of the sun and the power it represents.
"I like going back to the roots of the holiday season, the earth-based rituals and symbolism," Coursey said. For instance, wreaths are a symbol of the circle of the year, ornaments of red and gold balls represent the sun, and burning the yule log provides heat and light during the dark season.
In her home a small yule log is centered on the dining room table, which her three young children have decorated, and they light the candles mounted on its top beginning with the solstice and usually through Christmas.
"They enjoy it. At their age it's very much about Christmas, but we try to make sure they respect the earth, the universe," by intermingling some other customs into their celebrations, she said.
Various websites say pagans were reluctant to give up their celebratory rituals as Christianity spread through certain parts of the world, so early Christian leaders accommodated their wishes to appeal to the masses.