Advent Spiral

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Michael Ellis engages in an ancient ritual that brings together families and communities in winter.

Winter has always been a tough time for humans. Food and light are at a minimum, darkness and cold at a maximum. Our ancestors found it absolutely essential to huddle together and share what little they possessed in order just to survive. They recognized the necessity of being generous to one another in this season.

They also knew that their lives and the lives of plants and animals were intimately tied to the energy from the sun. To insure that the sun would stop its descent into the southern sky and the days would increase in length, our predecessors lit great fires. These were fires to placate the sun god.

When my son was in preschool we observed a similar rite: the Advent spiral. On the floor of the large meeting room the parents made a giant spiral out of pine boughs, fir branches, holly twigs and Pyracantha. Interspersed in the greenery were ornaments, seashells, crystals, bones and other beautiful artifacts of nature.

We began at sunset. In the darkness and cold of that large empty room all the parents gather and chanted a simple song. One by one each child walked alone holding an unlit candle, safely impaled in an apple. They slowly spiraled to the center where a single flame burned. Each one lit his own candle and placed it carefully amidst the greenery and slowly walked back out, the parents still singing. And so it went through all the kids. At the end of the ceremony the room was full of light, warmth and love.


In our fragmented world full of instant subdivisions, constant migrations and mobile communities, real neighborhoods seem like an anachronism. But on this solstice through the connecting thread of children several families came together and for a moment had a center, a focus, a hearth. Our children lit their personal candle from the communal fire, acknowledging the relationship that we all have with our fellow humans. We need one another. No man and no family is an island.

I wish you a joyous holiday season and a great 2018.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

Michael Ellis is a naturalist who leads tours throughout the world. He lives in Santa Rosa.