Winter Solstice


Tuesday 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.