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Winter Solstice

Tomorrow is, for my family and me, the big Winter holiday.  The Solstice is precisely at 23:38 GMT (5:38 PM CST) on 21 December, always right on schedule. At this moment, the northern hemisphere will be at its darkest, but also starts turning back towards the sun. We celebrate it by blowing out the many candles that are lit and enjoying a few moments without light or sound – just the music of the spheres to contemplate for a moment. This is our holiday for the season.

I gave up on Christmas a few years ago. It’s not a matter of giving up on Christianity, although I firmly believe that if Jesus came back today he’s have a hard time calling himself “Christian” in any form we’d recognize. The problem with Christmas as we know it is I cannot see how something called a “holy day” (holiday) can possibly be equated with a major spending binge, especially when coupled with a deep denial of how destructive we are. I’ve trotted this little parody song of mine for about 20 years now, but it doesn’t change a thing:

Hark, the Herald-Tribune sings,
“God is dead, now buy some things!”
Headlines tell of death and war
And of sales at some big store.

Read how all the children fall!
Feel the horror of it all!
Since there’s nothing you can do,
Why not buy some stuff that’s new?

Hark, the Herald-Tribune say,
“The Grace of God has passed away.”

As of now, I have simply dropped it all in favor of something I can make sense of. As holidays go, the Solstice at least has a long history. The ancient Germans would tie bits of meat and other offerings to a tall tree and set fire to it on the Solstice, in order to coax the Sun God to come back. It apparently worked. Many years later this would evolve into another German tradition, which is to periodically set fire to neighboring countries. Also, they took the trees indoors and called it Christmas. But I like it better the ancient way all the same.

That’s what’s so funny about our culture and how we think about ourselves. Long ago, the ancients had holidays based on real, astrological moments – events that genuinely meant something in their lives. Somewhere along the line, we became more sophisticated and crafted holidays about salvation and karma and all kinds of other social constructions that are far more abstract. They all have one thing to say, in the end. – “It’s all about us”.

Humans have gone from being close enough to nature to understand how very small they were to thinking that everything is very much all about them. This adolescent view of the world has few challenges other than the usual ones you’ll find rampant in teenagers, angst and ennui. Only recently did we manage to ditch the human-centered holiday in favor of a me-centered orgy of consumerism. It’s still all about people, but even thinner on personal obligations.

It works pretty well for an awful lot of people, even many who aren’t exactly practicing Christians.

Not me. I like the simple honesty of the Solstice. Just about noon our hemisphere will begin to turn toward the morning. The days will get longer, and soon enough it will get warmer out. The light is returning. Meanwhile, there’s this song by Gordon Bok:

Oh, my Joanie, don’t you know
That the stars are swingin’ slow
And the seas are rollin’ easy as they did so long ago.
If I had a thing to give ya,
I’d tell ya one more time
That the world is always turning toward the morning.

I’ll take that as a Solstice Carol. It’s our holiday, a specific moment in the gentle harmony of the spheres.  It is a moment when our small size seems rather obvious and quite comfortable.

7 thoughts on “Winter Solstice

  1. Precisely why the birth of Christ is celebrated during the time of Saturnalia…celebrated between December 17-25. In 350 A.D., Pope Julius I declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on December 25th…a bald-faced effort to get the pagans to become “Christian.”
    I kind of like celebrating the return of daylight and a little wanton gift-giving myself…And perhaps a little hot buttered rum.

  2. Christmas is a strange holiday, it’s become something much more than a christian celebration. I don’t know that we have to go as far as to ditch it, but I think adding the solstice is a good idea. It’s good to keep centered on the movement of earth through the heavens.

  3. I admire your honesty. I ceased being a practsing Christian many, many years ago – if I ever was one I just did as I was told when I was a child. We do in our household observe some of the trappings of Chrsitmas we put up a tree and we decorate it with lights we give each other presents. But most important of all to us is that we are spending the “festive” period together as a family. A few precious days dedicated to us -we eat, talk, play games and watch films together – not that we don’t do that throughout the year but as our daughter gets older we see less and less of her and that is as it should be in some senses as she finds her own way. Her own independence.

  4. I was having some nature thoughts the past few days because the lack of early sun affects my job. Also at home, neighborhood and church I am a still dealing with snow removal. I do not know if you read Sunday’s Pioneer Press but they had 2 nice articles; one about the Mitchell SD Corn Palace and how it is now considered dated, the other was about James J Hill’s son Louis who was a great philanthopist and one of the early boosters of Glacier Natl Park. It was interesting also how during the depression how he gave away big barrels of food with nutrituos and tasty things and opened up a holiday camp in North Oaks near a lake where 2000 women and children got to reconnect with nature for a week each summer. I worry sometimes cuz some things seem to be lost and what is being found to replace is so techy. U R not a gadget.

  5. With so much mention of soundly based tradition and solar worship associated with the solstice (and the hijacked Christmas coming up) perhaps we should spare some thought for the nature of the Sun itself. Perhaps the ancients were right and the Church wrong. Perhaps our local star really is a conscious character with divine status. Though the idea may seem strange to us today, what is really strange is that it seems strange – it was once a common understanding across the globe. Find out more about the Sun by Googling “sunofgod” – there is even a book with the title and yes, it’s by me.

  6. [ My apologies to everyone, but I had to delete some comments. It wasn’t the real lack of humor in them or the bizarre attempt at personal attacks that did it, either. The person in question did not provide a real e-mail address so they have to be regarded as a spammer. All I know is that they came via a server in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I’m terribly sorry as I haven’t deleted a comment in a long time, but I won’t just let people post completely anonymously. Thanks. ]

  7. Pingback: Doctor Who | Barataria – The work of Erik Hare

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