Wear a crown of flames

candle-of-flamesDecember. A time of darkness and quiet. And while the joyous preparations for the holiday season distracts us from the short days and long dark nights ahead, we lament the loss of light.

The season of advent has historically been linked with festivals celebrating the Winter Solstice and the return of the light. Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights celebrates by lighting a candle each day for eight days. The Christian Advent wreath traditionally had four candles, one lit each Sunday before Christmas.

In Sweden, families light a candle every Sunday during advent and celebrate St. Lucy’s Day, the day of light. One young girl from each village would be chosen to wear a wreath on her head to form a crown of flames. She would walk through the village singing Christmas carols and bringing treats and food to the villagers.

In Canada, we take arms against the darkness by hanging Christmas lights and lighting candles to cast a warm glow and light into the night.

This week’s #HappyAct is to wear a crown of flames: light a candle, build a fire in the grate. Be at peace with the stillness and quiet of the dark until we herald the Winter Solstice and the return of the light again.

christmas lights

The Science of Happiness Part 3: Don’t be SAD this winter

winter sunsetI came across a fascinating article the other day about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It said up to 4% of Canadians are clinically depressed in the winter. Another 10-15% suffer from SAD, most of them women.

The reasons are interesting. SAD is said to stem from the genes of our cave-dwelling ancestors who thousands of years ago would have hibernated during the winter months.

Fast forward to the average Canadian today. In November and December, we get up in the dark, drive to work as the sun is coming up, and drive home again at night in the dark. There are days when some of us literally do not see daylight. It’s incredibly unnatural and unhealthy.

I’m lucky. I’ve never suffered from any of these conditions, but I do crave sunlight during the winter months. Even doing such a tedious chore as cleaning my windows today made me feel good knowing that the warmth of the sun’s rays would wash through my sunroom during the long winter’s months ahead.

This week’s #HappyAct is to increase your exposure to sunlight. Get out for a walk at lunch. Clean your windows. Get a high intensity ultraviolet light. Do what you need to do to beat those caveman genes.

Enjoy the wizard’s light show

Christmas lights at Upper Canada village in Morrisburg
Alight at Night at Morrisburg

When Thomas Edison first hung a string of incandescent lights outside his laboratory in New York in 1880 so commuters on a passing train could see them, they called it the wizard’s light show.

As the Winter Solstice approaches, and the days grow shorter, we turn to lights to brighten the darkness and warm our hearts.

I was in Montreal this week, and even though there was a raging snowstorm, it was beautiful with magnificent wreaths, statues and lights gracing many of the buildings.

Every year, Regent Street in London lights up. Here’s this year’s lighting ceremony on Regent Street. Even though I’ve never been lucky enough to attend the Regent Street festivities in person, I watch it online each year. My favourite was the year Nokia sponsored the display and made the lights interactive, so the crowd could control the lighting. Watch this amazing video of how they created the Unity Nokia Regent Street light display that year.

For those of us in Eastern Ontario, Alight at Night at Upper Canada Village in Morrisburg is a must-see. We went last year and it was magical. The entire historical village is lit up, and you can take a horse-drawn carriage ride or simply stroll through the streets admiring the lights and light shows timed to music.

Whether you live in a big city, small town or in the country, this week’s #HappyAct is to get out and brighten your night by looking at the lights of the season. For more information on the history of Christmas lights, read this interesting article.



Gaze at the stars

Orion picStar gazing has always been a bit of a hobby of mine. I love looking up at the stars on a crystal clear night and seeing the stars emerge and envelop the night sky.

Stars are powerful. They dare us to imagine and connect the dots, to see princesses, kings, and creatures from tales from long ago. They inspire us to dream and to make wishes.

Stars lead us on journeys and lead us back home again. Above all, stars connect us with our world, the greater universe, and our fellow man. They put our lives in perspective.  Sometimes when I walk at night and look at the stars, I think of the people in other parts of the hemisphere looking at the same constellations I’m gazing at. It makes my troubles and worries seem smaller somehow.

Next Saturday is the Winter Solstice so this week’s Happy Act is to star gaze. If you live in an urban area, this might be more of a challenge. Make an outing to a dark park on a clear night (but stay safe—don’t get mugged!), or drive out of the city, park the car and look up into the sky. Get one with the universe. If you’re lucky, you might see a falling star, and your wish might come true.

Some tips this week if you live in Eastern Ontario. Queen’s University Observatory has a free Open House the second Saturday of every month. Check it out. There’s also an area in North Frontenac that has been deemed a dark sky viewing area. Finally, we’re luck y to have one of the leading astronomers, Terence Dickinson live in our area. If you can, watch for and attend one of Terry’s talks. If you’re new to star gazing, this short video will help. See if you can find Orion, Cassiopeia, The Big Dipper, which is an asterism, a constellation within the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear and Ursa Minor which is home to the North Star. My favourite is Pleiades, a cluster of seven stars known as the Seven Sisters. If you’re interested, ask Santa for a good little constellation book you can take on your nightly walks.