Yule, Reflection and Snickerdoodles

Yule, Reflection and Snickerdoodles December 29, 2018

Branch with bunches of rowan covered with rime.

This is one of the times of year when many of us do a lot of reflection, both on the year that is passing and the year that is coming. The Internet is full of planners, suggestions for resolutions, ways of considering the past and the future. Question of who and how we want to be, how we want to live our lives, what we want to give over to Earth to compost and make into new life abound.

Janus, the Roman lord of transitions, peace and war, the past and the future, hangs over us, His two faces looking backward and forward.

For me, this period of reflection follows on the heels of the Season of Relinquishment, that time between Samhain and Yule. It is as Yule that the depth of that period begins to end, and the lights, as it were, begin to come on.

My wife and our share our reflections beginning with the solstice. We spend Yule with no electric lights on (twinkly lights don’t count, you silly thing!) from the time we wake to the time we go to sleep. Some people do this for several days leading up to the solstice, but we developed our tradition of tapers and votives, lanterns and hurricane lamps just for the day of the solstice.

We exchange gifts.

We sit quietly in the dim of the Pacific Northwest winter.

We mark the time of the solstice–this year it was 2:23 pm Pacific time.

We watch as the thin light emerges sometime not long before 8 am.

We keep a close eye on the outside, for those last rays of the sunset, knowing that already, the light is growing higher, a tiny bit stronger than it has been. As of 2:23, after all, the turn of Earth has moved the slant just a bit, just a tiny sliver of a tiny bit.

Throughout the darkening of the day, we light more candles in the living room, the bathroom, and finally the kitchen, where we spend a nice chunk of time on our yearly comfort project.

At some point in the afternoon, we open The Joy of Cooking to a page it nearly falls open to. Snickerdoodles, you see, are the centerpiece of our day. They are the food of life on the solstice, and we make them very nearly in the dark. (And we try mightily not to think about the fact that we no longer have dogs. You know, because think of what the floor looks like in the kitchen the day after solstice with no dogs to help!)

There is no feast. There are no guests.

There is only the growing dark, there are devoted spouses, a pair of snuggly cats whose eyes glow in the candlelight, and there are cookies and tea.

Solstice is for us.

Very small on the outside, and very spacious on the inside. Quiet at times, save for the scratching of pens. Sometimes joyful with the hanging of Yule decorations for the season between now and  New Year’s (or sometimes, if I’m feeling nostalgic, the Christian holiday of Epiphany/Orthodox Christmas).

That interior spaciousness is what allows for what I mentioned above:  the beginning of the annual season of discernment and reflections.

It is not just Yule, after all, but for days afterward that our house goes back and forth between sharing meals and love with friends and family and this quiet, beautiful spaciousness.

There is Tarot to comment on the months past and remind us of what we need to remember coming up.

There is remembrance of things and people and times past. There is the Advent and Christmas music (yes, Christmas music) that my family loved so much. (I play it with headphones in so as not to irritate my lovely wife.)

There is writing in the quiet dim with plenty of rain hitting the windows. Perhaps our handwriting is not as straight as usual, but there is contemplation of what we are moved to write in the dark, in the presence of the flickering lights. What has the last year brought to us? For what do we need to forgive ourselves? For what do we need to make amends? What do we need in order to begin anew…

So there’s been all that…and my wife and I have time off to think, and time off to rest, and time off to recover from the year that is passing away.

Not everyone has this time, and I am very aware of that fact. I wish we all did. I so wish we all did.

And so, having spent some time in contemplation, I arrive at the end of the year, full of ideas, experiments, and new plans for The Way of the River. We’ll all just have to wait and see what’s coming!

So much love and wishes for joy in the New Year–


PS — Do watch my site, The Way of the River, coming up! I’m offering Making Hard Choices: The Art of Discernment again in February. Those who took the course in August had a great time, and I can’t wait to share it with more of you!

About Catharine Clarenbach
From the time she—age 5—tried to explain the nature of God to her best friend, Catharine Clarenbach has been a spiritual and religious seeker. Catharine has led groups in EarthReligious (Pagan) and Roman Catholic communities for over 30 years. She was ordained a Unitarian Universalist minister in April 2015 and has also been blessed by shared spiritual life in Quaker, Reform Jewish, and African Diaspora communities. Catharine’s ministry through her site, The Way of the River (, brings together a regular blog and newsletter with spiritual direction and classes on discernment, spiritual practice, and meditation. You can read more about the author here.

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