The hands of time keep ticking forward without the slightest bit of assistance from us. Still we can’t help but use the passing of days and years as markers, the important moments, and milestones in our lives. Starting with the day that we arrived in this world, to when we started school to the multiple graduations. The day we got our driver’s license and wreaked havoc on unassuming drivers, or said “I do” to someone for the rest of our life. To the usual birthdays and anniversaries. Then there are the special occasions, the holidays, Christmas, New Year’s Eve -- when the whole world is aware of the specialness of the day.
I once tried to figure out how old my grandfather was, he told me he was born during the “harvest season”. Very quickly realizing that I was not going to get an exact day/month/year, I inquired, “but which year?” He excitedly tried to explain that he was born before his sister but after his brother and calculated roughly how far apart they were in age. But still no exact year and he sort of waved it off with his hand. It just didn’t seem important during the time that he was born. There were no birthday parties, no presents, no college admission, no annual health check-ups. All the kids worked on the acres of land owned by the family, grew their own food, made their own clothes, built the family home, slept under the stars, woke up to the sound of the rooster and the first rays of the sun. It was a different time. And a different place. As long as he lived, I don’t believe he ever celebrated his birthday. Life just went on -- without markers. I'm guessing he was somewhere between 78-90. :-)
Though I appreciate the celebratory nature of the holidays, I find something deeply spiritual in days being dictated by seasons instead of mass consumerism. I think many people put too much pressure on holidays and that being the time of the year to spend with family and friends (as oppose to the entire rest of the year). It’s perhaps not surprising to know that there’s a forty-percent increase in suicide attempts immediately after Christmas. It can be easy to lose sight of what is actually being celebrated (in a historical sense).
Winter season brings so many gifts, it can be a beautiful time for growth and renewal. As the nights grow longer, and days shorter, it feels natural to ease into rest and reflection. The past few months I’ve found myself drawn to a ritual that my grandfather would do with my cousins and I when he visited. Every day, right after sunset, as soon as it turned dark -- we would gather together in a room and light a candle and offer a small prayer. It was a marker between the running-around of the day and resting into the coming stillness of the night. We never had to remember to do it. The sun setting would serve as the reminder and send us running home from wherever we were playing. Although I have to admit that at the time we were mostly motivated by the prasad (a sweet sugar-candy and nuts) we would receive at the end of the prayer.
Once we’d washed up and gathered in one room, I recall being amazed that the small flickering flame would light up all the little faces. It is a beautifully symbolic act that reminds me that when it becomes dark outside, it’s important to keep a candle burning inside.