As you read this, light has begun her slow return here in the northern hemisphere. Dec. 21 marked the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. From here on until June when we reach the summer solstice, the days will grow longer and longer.

For now, it’s enough to know the darkest part of the year recedes with each sunrise and sunset.

The ancients had good reason to light fires and perform ritualistic dances to implore the sun to return. Imagine the despair of Neanderthal man, or even earlier Ardipithecus, sitting on some weathered outcropping watching the sun sink from sight faster and faster with each passing day.

With no calendar to reassure him the sun would return, he and all his companions must have felt total despair. Imploring whatever mysterious powers ruled the universe would have seemed their only recourse.

And what a relief it must have been when the sun responded to their ceremonies and blessed them with her presence a little longer day after day.

Some years ago, my sister and I visited Stonehenge. The monoliths, though not as large as my imagination had pictured them when I was young, were sufficiently grandiose to give me pause as I thought about the route across sea and land they traveled to reach their final resting place. Though we were not at Stonehenge on the exact date, we were only a few days past summer solstice. It was easy to see how time could have been measured by the sun’s appearance through an opening in the stones. What an important and reassuring message such a marking must have been to the people who worked to create the monument.

It seems fitting in modern times that our most sacred religious occasions in celebration of a spiritual coming of light coincide with the renewal of light in our physical world — a perfect harmony between our metaphysical and our physical selves.

For many of us the increase in the sun’s daily presence won’t become noticeable for several more weeks, but the celebration of the season of joy doesn’t depend upon our awareness of the sun. As long as we have our loved ones near, or as many of our loved ones as we can gather in, we have sufficient reason to rejoice during the holidays.

Here on the hilltop, Dick and I decorated and baked, shopped and wrapped, and were ready for children (grown, but always children in our minds), grandchildren, sister and brothers-in-law, niece and her family, and our close friends to spend Christmas day with us. We spread the food on the dining room table, a stack of plates and napkins at one end, an array of desserts on a nearby table and filled our plates again and again during the leisurely afternoon.

With promised good weather, we meandered around outdoors. The youngsters tossed a football or Frisbee. They played with our dog Ember, granddaughter Megan’s dog Watson, and with the cats, Kaycee and Olivia.

We forgot the hours of labor that went into preparations, glad once more for the blessing of family and friends. We are fortunate we have the opportunity to be together.

Now we turn the calendar to a new year, a clean slate where we will once more mark the days with chores and appointments and all that makes our lives rich and satisfying.

Dick and I wish for all of you the blessings of a glad new year in which you will live life to the fullest.

Connie Green grew up in Oak Ridge and is a poet, novelist and writing instructor. To contact her, visit her website at www.conniejordangreen.com.