I took a mental journey from Hong Kong to my hometown of Santa Fe, NM, and meditated on the quality of light in all its forms during winter
My daughter is an early riser, and has been ever since she was a baby. I, however, am not a morning person; this means I have seen more sunrises in the six years since she was born, than I had in the previous 34 years before I became a mother.
Given that I am now regularly awake before dawn, I have gained an appreciation for the ebb and flow of daylight as the seasons change. In the summer, sunlight floods our bedroom windows at 5:30am when I hear the groaning creak of my daughter’s bunk bed as she climbs down the wooden ladder excited to start the day.
In the winter months of December and January, I doze in the half-dark before sunrise, before she bounces into our bedroom. Each day the sun rises a little later; sometimes she also sleeps in longer, but most days (alas) she does not. She crawls into bed between my husband and I, wrapping her arms around my neck while I protest, “It’s still dark, it’s too early.” But I also remind myself to enjoy these sunrise awakenings while they last, as I will be sad when she outgrows climbing into our bed to cuddle every morning.
The windows in our flat face east, which makes for incredible morning views as the sun rises over the Hong Kong skyline. But we do not have any west-facing windows, and I miss the panoramic sunsets from my childhood in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The southwestern horizon is so wide and vast, stretching from the moonrise on one side to the sunset on the other. At night the sky is filled with stars and, during winter, fragrant with the smell of piñon woodsmoke.
My husband’s mother still lives in Santa Fe, in the same house in which my husband grew up. He has childhood memories of falling asleep in a nest of blankets before the fire in the kiva fireplace, listening to the crackle and pop of the flames. We haven’t been home to visit since February 2020, but my daughter can remember helping my husband prepare the fire, as her little hands nestled kindling between the logs before my husband struck the match to light the flame.
No matter your age, there is always a certain magic to fire. I suppose this is why so many cultures celebrate this change of season from autumn to winter with festivals of light. From the lanterns of Mid-Autumn Festival, to jack’o’lanterns on Halloween, Diwali lamps, and Hanukkah menorahs, people all over the world light a flame to keep watch until spring. In Santa Fe—like other places in the Southwest with a Spanish colonial history—the Christmas tradition is to light luminarias (small vigil fires or bonfires) and farolitos (small paper lanterns) outside their homes. On Christmas Eve, people gather for La Posada, walking along the farolito-lined Canyon Road (a historic street in the old-town neighbourhood now filled with art galleries and restaurants), stopping at luminarias along the way to warm up, sing carols, and snack on festive treats like biscochitos.
Unlike Santa Fe, it’s rare to experience the cosiness of gathering around a fire on a cold night in Hong Kong. Which is why I appreciated the winter meditation from Yinki Wong, where she lead me on a mental journey, guided by a lone star, toward a warm bonfire. In my mind, I visualised walking along Canyon Road, surrounded by family and friends, gathering around a luminaria to keep watch over the night while embracing the winter season.