Dec. 21 was a remarkable day of contrasts. Two distinctive, and somewhat opposite, celestial events happened within the same 24-hour period. Did you notice?
At 5:02 a.m. Dec. 21, the winter solstice began in Georgia. Of course, the solstice is the darkest day of the year, marking the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Since the summer solstice six months earlier, the hours of daylight have been gradually diminishing each day until Dec. 21, which had only 10 hours worth. Then, beginning on Dec. 22, the hours of daylight began slowly increasing again, leaving Dec. 21 as the single longest night of the year.
But, it was also one of the most amazing in astronomical history. That evening, a Great Conjunction occurred, when Jupiter and Saturn aligned with Earth. This Great Conjunction, often called the Christmas star in reference to the star that guided the magi to the Christ child, happens every 20 years but rarely as perfectly as this year. Jupiter and Saturn will be separated by less than 0.1 degrees, giving the appearance that they have merged into one huge, extraordinarily bright planet. It will be the closest alignment of these two celestial giants since July 3, 1623, and the closest visible Great Conjunction in nearly 800 years, and, not to mention, the closest conjunction for the next 450 years.
Dec. 21 was truly a day of remarkable contrasts in the heavens — the sun at its lowest, the darkness at its longest and yet, at the same time, the rarest display of stellar light, which magnificently took center stage in the night sky. The Great Conjunction of 2020 appeared brighter than ever against the long, dark sky of this year’s winter solstice.
The year 2020 has been itself a year of distinctive contrasts. This has been an interminable year of pitch darkness: the coronavirus pandemic, financial devastation, lockdowns and breakups, searing racial hostility and seething political division, spilling onto our streets and into our homes. 2020 has been one long, cold, dark solstice.
And, yet, in the midst of this darkness, there have been Great Conjunctions too, aligning neighbors and strangers in a shared orbit of humanity. Frontline health care workers heroically risking their own safety to care for others. Dedicated scientists developing lifesaving vaccines in a fraction of the expected time. Countless outpourings — great and small — of generosity and kindness. The yearning for human connection, creatively overcoming the barriers of social distancing with Zoom parties and balcony sing-alongs. While there has been much darkness, 2020 has been a year of hundreds and thousands and millions of warm, bright Great Conjunctions within the human family.
In this holiday season, let us not be engulfed by the surrounding darkness or lose ourselves in cursing it. Instead, may we be people, who, through Great Conjunctions of Spirit, align ourselves in mutual care and concern for one another and for the healing of all Creation. May we each, inspired by heavenly light, push back the darkness of fear and hatred with the inextinguishable candles of hope, peace, joy and love. And, in this season of Christmas stars, Hanukkah candles and twinkling holiday decorations, may we also choose to be lights, shining in our own worlds more brightly than ever.