Out of the darkness of winter, we choose to make light.

This Sunday is the winter solstice. It is the shortest, darkest day of the year. The sun rises late, sets early, and night lingers longer. So at this time of year, it’s dark when I leave for the warehouse in the morning and dark again by the time I get in my car to drive home.

When you really think about it, it does seem strange that in a time of winter dark and gloom, almost all cultures have their biggest and most joyful holiday celebrations. Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali and Kwanzaa are just a few of December’s most important holidays, and though they might seem totally different from one another, we think that the closer you look, the more similarities you might see!

Light in the Darkness

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Given that December is the darkest month of the year, maybe it is no coincidence that this is the time of year when so many cultures choose to celebrate with light. The nine candles on the Menorah, the seven candles of the Kinara, the Advent wreath and even the abundance of LED lights illuminating Christmas trees and homes are all examples of the ways that different cultures come together to shine light in the darkness of winter.

One of the most important reasons (and one of the easiest reasons to forget when you’re sitting in your car waiting for your windshield to defrost) that we see so much celebration of the darkest day of winter is that it marks the turning point for the year. After the winter solstice and the holidays that celebrate it, we slowly but surely start to get more sun and the promise of rebirth and spring.

A Long History of December Celebration

There are a stunning variety of winter holidays (take for example Boxing Day, St. Lucia’s Day and Omisoka, just to name a very very few) that are celebrated by people around the world, but the more you look into their origins and celebrations, the more you realize that all of the winter holidays have more in common than you might expect.

Forgive me for the history lesson here, but case in point: the ancient Romans who lived in Italy celebrated a December holiday called Saturnalia. On the surface, it sounds a little bizarre, but at the heart of Saturnalia are some traditions that are surprisingly familiar. The Roman winter holiday was described by Gaius Valerius Catullus as “the best of times,” a time of feasting when “seriousness was barred.” Executions were cancelled, flights of flamingos were released over the city, and female gladiators fought dwarves (yes, really). But Saturnalia was also a time for the activities we’ve come to associate with the holidays – celebrating in the home, forgoing normally formal and plain clothes in favor of wearing bright colors like red and purple (the ancient version of ugly Christmas sweaters!) and exchanging small gifts. Sounds familiar, right?

We Are All More Alike Than Different

Here at Modigliani, we love that the holidays are an opportunity for us to learn more about our neighbors, and in doing so, about ourselves. The kids are home from college on winter break and we are excited to hear about all of their new adventures while we enjoy our old family Christmas traditions! Now is the time for us to enjoy the little things together (like brightening your home with the very merry Natale pieces shown above, which you can learn more about here). Now is also the perfect time to think about the ways that your friends and family can make new traditions and embrace la grande vita together this holiday season!