This time of year, around 7:30 in the morning, the sun paints a tipsy exclamation point on the wall above our bedroom radiator. It glimmers, stretches and slides on a downward slope away from the window, toward the radiator’s far corner, before vanishing within the hour. I welcome the annual arrival of this narrow shaft of light—a reminder that, even as the days are growing far too short, the winter solstice is barely a month away.
I hang onto this promise. As soon as we switch the clocks back and it starts getting darker by 5:00 and then 4:30 and now 4:15, I feel as if everything constricts. It takes me nearly a week to get used to the relative time change. Then I start marking time until December 22—the first day of extra sunlight.
My other way of reassuring myself that winter’s heavy darkness will, eventually, lift once again is Hanukkah. The eight-day Jewish festival of lights, Hanukkah is celebrated by lighting one new candle each evening, just after nightfall. The candles are a reminder of miracles—how the Maccabees overthrew Syrian Greek rulers who had desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem, the Temple’s restoration and rededication, and how a single cruise of ceremonial oil burned in the Temple for eight days instead of just one.
Normally, Hanukkah falls midway in December, not far from Christmas, right around the shortest day of the year. With the addition of each new candle in our eight-branch hanukkiah, I feel the light returning.
This year, however, Hanukkah starts the night before Thanksgiving—an anomaly caused by the particulars of the solar-lunar Jewish calendar. This coincidence of holidays won’t occur again for another 70,000 years. That is, assuming humans are still around to mark the passage of time, the earth’s elliptical orbit around the sun and reasons to be grateful.
So what to make of the candlelight when I know the days are still getting shorter for the next few weeks? Delayed gratification? Reassurance that even as the temperatures here in New England have plummeted well below freezing at night, even though it’s still November and not yet January and I’m bundling up in layers and layers to stay warm, that the earth will soon reach its farthest distance from the sun and begin spinning closer once again?
Maybe I should focus on miracles. Gratitude generates its own candlepower. We have a warm house. I have enough warm clothes to deal with the weather and my Raynaud’s. When I switch on a light, electricity flows through wiring into an energy-efficient fluorescent bulb to brighten the room (even if it takes a few minutes). No horrible severe storms, yet, out our way. (Probably shouldn’t mention that one. Don’t want to jinx it.)
Then there’s the annual miracle of that narrow shaft of light each morning in our bedroom, November’s sunny greeting. Yes, it’s cold out, it seems to say. But the world keeps spinning. Gravity holds you firmly to the ground. There will be more sunlight soon. Minute by minute. Second by second. Stay the course.
Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.