click to enlarge Unity of Springfield will have a Winter Solstice event at Lincoln Memorial Garden on Friday, Dec. 17.
Unity of Springfield will have a Winter Solstice event at Lincoln Memorial Garden on Friday, Dec. 17.

As increasing numbers of Americans abandon traditional churches and belief systems, many find themselves seeking something that provides meaning to their lives, but outside of the traditional religious purview. The idea that a person can be spiritual, but not necessarily religious, is drawing more adherents. Many people still desire the feeling of community, hope and celebration that churches offer, but not necessarily the religious nature, especially in the winter season.

The pastor of Unity of Springfield Church, Rev. Christine McFarland, states that, "People are attracted to Unity because we don't tell people what they have to believe. We are a welcoming, affirming and accepting community." The winter season at Unity is filled with positive celebrations:

Winter solstice
Dec. 17 at 5 p.m.

A partnership with Lincoln Memorial Garden for a winter solstice event will be fun for the whole family and includes spiritual drumming and s'mores.

Christmas/Candle lighting
Dec. 19 at 6 p.m.

We understand spiritual awakenings come from within and we are all on an awakening journey in some way, shape or form, so we hold steady knowing we have all these powers within us illuminating the way.

Releasing service
Dec. 26 at 10 a.m.

Everyone is invited to write out on dissolving paper those things they are ready to release. Then, people are invited to write down those things they truly wish to have more of in their lives. Since they have released the old, there is now room for new thoughts, ideas and a way of life as we prepare to enter into the new year.

White stone service
Jan. 2 at 10 a.m.

Each person is given the opportunity to choose a new name for themselves by recognizing qualities they wish to develop and writing this on a stone.

Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa arose in 1966 in response to the Watts riots as a culture-affirming holiday for African Americans. Created by Maulana Karenga, a leader in the Black power movement of the era, the aim was to celebrate Black culture and history through seven principles: Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity) and Imani (faith).

Locally, Kwanzaa celebrations have been organized for years by Erica Austin, a community youth advocate and CEO of LYNC (Leading Youth Networking Communities). Austin states she celebrates Kwanzaa because "it's a reminder of those seven principles we live by every single day. It keeps us encouraged to know where we came from and where we're going. Not just for those seven days, but through the year."

Austin says that plans for this year's Kwanzaa celebration are still in the works, but it will definitely be an in-person event. Check on LYNC's Facebook page for more details, coming soon.

All-inclusive

Rev. Martin Woulfe, pastor of the Abraham Lincoln Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Springfield, states they hold an all-inclusive celebration on Christmas Eve, which includes an acknowledgment of all of the religious observances of members of their church, including Christian, Jewish Festival of Lights, Kwanzaa, the pagan lighting of the Yule Log and Diwali.

"We have people in our congregation from multiple traditions, who were raised Jewish, Hindu, or who have embraced pagan spirituality, etc. It all comes together in a Celebration of Lights for our Christmas Eve service," said Woulfe.

This year's planning is just beginning, but those interested can check the website (www.aluuc.org) for finalized details. The event will be held in-person as well as online this year.

When asked why winter celebrations seem to be a universal part of culture, Wolfe responded, "Historically for humankind, up until relatively recently, we were subject to the temperatures and the scarcities of the season. If you did not store up food, there was scarcity and could be starvation. It was always part of our mindset as we approached the season.

"When trees are denuded and layers of snow and ice cover the landscape, we retreat from a lot of activity as nature begins to slumber. These are the transitions of life and nature. We protect that which is alive, and hold onto the hearth and family so we can pass through this time safely.

"That is one of the common themes, and why light is so essential in these different traditions around world. Even though scientifically we know the Earth is in its closest approach to the sun, because of the axis, the northern hemisphere is tilted away. This journey through life is a circuit, and eventually the life and warmth will return and nature will be revived, but not instantly.

"We look for strength and succor, and encouragement in others and in our community to help us weather the season," said Woulfe.

No pun intended.

Carey Smith is a non-practicing pagan who enjoys the ebb and flow of life through the seasons.

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