Early this morning (just after 0400, Ladera Frutal time) was the winter solstice. Tonight’s darkness will be about one second shorter than last night’s, as the days begin to lengthen.1
When the sun sets tonight, it will be the 25th of Kislev, marking the first night of the 8-day festival of lights, Chanukah. The convergence of solar and lunar calendars this year is fortuitous, as we will be adding a candle each night for the week ahead, almost as if we are willing the sun to increase our day length–a little jump-start to what I like to think of as the solar new year.
Given the cycles of a 30-day lunar month2, the 25th of Kislev is, by definition, a week before the new moon. Hence the period straddling the full moon closest to the winter solstice is the darkest time of year, a perfect time for both literally and figuratively bringing new light into the world through the Chanukah celebration. The solstice and new moon will not always coincide this nicely, however.
A CBC item today notes how few people today even give the winter solstice a thought, yet the setting of various culture’s holidays, including Christmas, at this time of year is obviously a means of giving religious meaning to winter’s key solar event. Chanukah, however, clearly has one additional reason for its timing: this is the season of new oil,3 thereby providing a practical connection to the “great miracle” that occasioned the re-dedication of the Temple at the heart of the Chanukah story.
Chanukah and (solar) year’s end: the perfect opportunity to re-dedicate ourselves to increasing the light in one another’s lives. Chag Urim Sameach!
1. I trust that our friends on the other side of the equator will forgive this northern virtual orchard’s hemispherism as I wish them a happy first day of summer!
2. Technically “lunar month” is a redundancy, given that month derives from moon, but the Gregorian months are not tied to moon cycles as are the Jewish ones.
3. In Mediterranean climates such as the land of Israel, or California, olives begin to be harvested in late autumn. So, whereas Sukkot is particularly associated with the grape (and wine!), whose harvest wraps up in late summer, Chanukah is associated with the olive (and its oil). That these two great fruits of Mediterranean agriculture have their 8-day festivals (with Sh’mini Atzeret actually a separate holiday, but immediately following Sukkot) is highly significant historically as well as agriculturally: The original Chanukah was a delayed Sukkot, because the war of religious freedom, led by the Maccabees, had to be won before the Temple could be re-dedicated. The war had prevented Sukkot from being observed that year.
Please see past year’s Chanukah plantings: