For those of us in the northern hemisphere, December is one of the darkest months. The days are shorter. Night comes earlier. Each morning I eagerly await the dawn, the potential sliver of sunshine seeping through my window and warming my otherwise cold wintery skin. For those of us who struggle with seasonal depression, December can be difficult. The colder and shorter days cast shadows on our spirits as we yearn for the warm glow of light. Each December as we inch toward the winter solstice, I am reminded of the Goddess of the Dawn, Aurora, and of the unique ways in which a variety of wisdom traditions invoke the coming of light amidst the stark December night skies.
So, this December I welcome Aurora into the vast witness of Holy Women Icon with a folk feminist twist that I feature each month: Virginia Woolf , the Shulamite, Mary Daly, Baby Suggs, Pachamama and Gaia, Frida Kahlo, Salome, Guadalupe and Mary, Fatima, Sojourner Truth, Saraswati, Jarena Lee, Isadora Duncan, Miriam, Lilith, Georgia O’Keeffe, Guanyin, Dorothy Day, Sappho, Jephthah’s daughter, Anna Julia Cooper, the Holy Woman Icon archetype, Maya Angelou, Martha Graham, Pauli Murray, La Negrita, Tiamat/tehom, Mother Teresa, and many others.
Aurora is the Goddess of the dawn in Roman mythology; each morning she soars across the sky to announce the arrival of the sun. As the nights grow longer and longer, I can think of few other goddesses I hope for more than Aurora. In fact, many faith traditions invoke the coming of light during this month of long nights and short days.
In my own tradition, we are not yet celebrating Christmas (despite the capitalist consumer onslaught that has been on full throttle since October). Rather, we still dwell in the deep blue darkness of Advent, when we wait, long, and prepare for light to be birthed into our world. For most Christians, a candle is lit each Sunday during Advent and the light grows brighter as they anticipate the birth of Christ.
Advent is not the lone holiday that celebrates flickering light growing in the darkness this month. In addition to Advent and the Winter Solstice, many of our Jewish friends will celebrate Hanukkah later this month , a Festival of Lights. Each night a candle is lit as we remember, “such is the way of creation: first comes darkness, then light.” This month also hosts the Wiccan holiday of Yule, which marks the New Year and the celebration of the birth of the God as the Winter-born king, symbolized by the rebirth of the life-generating and life-sustaining sun. Yule is a time for ritually shedding the impurities of the past year and for meditating on ways in which you can develop your spirit in the year to come. In addition to Yule, December 21 is also Tohji-taisai, the Shinto Grand Ceremony of the Winter Solstice. Tohji-taisai celebrates the joy of the sun ending its yin period as it declines in strength, and the beginning of the yang period as its power grows stronger and stronger as the days lengthen. The sun is of central importance in Japan, expressing the presence of Amaterasu Omikami, or the Kami of the Sun.
As we continue to dwell in the dark winter night sky for a few more weeks, Advent will end and the Christmas season will begin. Like the brightening of days, the liturgical colors shift from deep blue or purple to bright white or gold. Light is birthed. The sun grows stronger. Emmanuel is with us. As the twelve days of Christmas begin, so too, does Kwanza, a West African holy season where the candles of a seven-branched candelabrum are lit to represent seven holy attributes: unity, self-determination, responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.
Each of these meaningful wisdom traditions holds unique value that should not be overlooked. The last thing I want to do is neglect their uniqueness by combining them all into one holy candle that glimmers in the darkness. Whether the lights are coming from the Advent candles, the Menorah, the yang period of the sun, the fire dancers celebrating the Winter-born king, the seven-branched candelabrum, or the Christmas tree, they are providing illumination in the midst of shadows, pointing us toward peace. We can learn a lot from dwelling in the darkness together. We can learn to appreciate even the smallest of light.
Whether we are celebrating Christmas, Hanukah, Yule, Tohji-taisai, Kwanza, or merely yearning for longer days, we are all experiencing the early setting of the sun and trying to provide a little light in the darkness. Aurora beckons the sun on behalf of us all. So, as I painted in December’s shadows, I knew that Aurora must brighten both my canvas and our spirits. She rises, the sun faithfully following and filling the skies with a brilliant array of color. Stars shoot forth from her hands and fill the shadowy sky. And her enlivening heart cries out to us all:
Saving all from fallen
Shadows, her heart beckons
Us to pull dreams into
Reality as she invokes
The rising of
No matter where we light our candles or place our faith during December, we can remember Aurora as she invites us to turn our nighttime dreams into daytime realities. In the midst of the painfully chaotic, brutal, and unjust realities that have recently filled our days and nights—from Ferguson to Syria, Cleveland to Afghanistan, and everywhere in between—Aurora invites our dreams of justice, peace, equality, and beauty to become realities. May we be so bold.
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Rev. Dr. Angela Yarber has a PhD in Art and Religion from the Graduate Theological Union at UC Berkeley and is author of Embodying the Feminine in the Dances of the World’s Religions, The Gendered Pulpit: Sex, Body, and Desire in Preaching and Worship, Dance in Scripture: How Biblical Dancers can Revolutionize Worship Today, Holy Women Icons, and Tearing Open the Heavens: Selected Sermons from Year B. She has been a clergywoman and professional dancer and artist since 1999. For more on her research, ministry, dance, or to purchase one of her icons, visit: www.angelayarber.com