As I child when I was out shopping in Consett with members of my family we would regularly pop into church to light a candle. I loved this, as when I was old enough, I was encouraged to be proactive.

First, I was given coins to put into the large brass collection box incorporated into the large candle stand, loving hearing them clink in the echoey church, as they made their way to the bottom. Then I progressed to holding the long waxy taper, intent on watching it crackle into life, as I lit a new candle and chose a significant place for it to rest.

I followed my elders example by kneeling down in one of the front pews to say a prayer. I remember asking who to pray for, and responding to the whispered reply,

‘Anyone who’s not as fortunate as you!’

I tried racking my 5 year old brain to think of a worthy recipient of my prayers, and eventually settled on the man – with the long hair, beard and coat, sitting on the bench close to the flower beds at the bottom of the market – who drank out of a bottle and looked sad.

Reaching up to touch Saint Anthony’s feet on the way out just in case I lost anything, I looked forward to repeating this candle lighting experience.

And from then on I was hooked, rejoicing when the candlesticks came out at home, and with the candles lit I found solace in the flickering light, gently toasting myself in front of the coal fire.

I couldn’t wait for the preparations for Christmas to begin, when lights were abundant at home and outside.

Perhaps we all have a fascination with fire, does it possibly hold a particular place in our collective consciousness; knowing that from earliest times, celebration festivals have been part of many civilisations, as heat and light are seen as the basis for life.

The Winter Solstice has been acknowledged in cultures around the world for thousands of years, commonly known as Yule, it is a celebration of light and the rebirth of the Sun.

The word solstice literally translates as ‘the standing still of the sun’ and is the point where the sun appears to reach either its highest or lowest point in the sky for the year. Old solstice traditions have influenced holidays we celebrate now, such as Christmas, Hanukkah and St Lucia’s Day, celebrated in Scandinavia.

And it’s understandable that these customs have been passed down through the centuries, as we are all captivated by warmth and luminosity.

It is especially heartwarming now as the nights draw in, to see so many folk embracing the spirit of Christmas well before Advent officially starts.

Shopping early evening in Consett recently, I was inspired by the tenacity and resilience of people, who are determined – in this very challenging year – to boldly put up their Christmas trees, switch on their festive lights and decorate their homes in anticipation of better times ahead.

And I must admit for the first time in my life, I purchased a beautiful heart shaped Yuletide wreath to hang on my door in the middle of November; as I retrieved my candles and fairy lights from the top of the wardrobe!

Maybe it’s time to shine our own lights with and within our family, friends and those around us – while always remembering the less fortunate – as we celebrate, and look forward to a bright New Year

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