Monday, January 02, 2006
Winter Solstice 2005
The snow is piling up on Black Pine Mountain and it seems downright refreshing after the dormant dryness of last year. The dark is a bit depressing and I never get over how fast it falls. One minute it’s day and the next, the stars are out.
There is plenty of dark now; we’re approaching the longest night of the year. Since summer, the sun has been sliding south, taking the light with it, days growing shorter by the minute. On December 21, Sol reaches the farthest point south and it’s as far away as it can get from us Northerners. This explains the very long night. Meanwhile, the Australians are baking on the beach till all hours.
For centuries the Winter Solstice, or Yule, has been celebrated all over the world as a powerful yet festive time for good reason. The autumn equinox showed our ancestors a sun that was slipping away day by day and they had no assurance that it would ever return. If it kept going, they were all doomed.
By the solstice there was near panic. They needed comfort and craved some control over their destinies. So they began to develop elaborate rituals to encourage the sun’s return. They lit bonfires on the hilltops, imitating the sun’s light and heat, a way of honoring what the personal fireball did for us.
They Looked everywhere for a sign that life wasn’t completely gone and would perhaps return to full flower in time. They searched for what still might be living and green in the soil of their natural world.
The evergreens were a sign. They cut fir or pine trees and brought them into their homes in a celebratory way. If these trees were alive then surely they would have a chance also. They devised an ornament made from the trees branches, a circlet of evergreen boughs to hang on the door, this was another symbol of the sun and through sympathetic magic perhaps it could be encouraged to come back their way again.
Then, wonder of wonders the sun did return, the light was born again and all rejoiced at the Yuletide. Life on Earth would continue.
If this theme strikes you as somewhat familiar, it is. Before Jesus was a glimmer in Mary’s eye, people celebrated this life affirming holiday and revered it as a time of renewal and the moving out of darkness. When the Christian priests wanted more followers for their new religion they decided that the solstice was a good spot to place the birth of Jesus.
The symbolism was apropos and, besides everyone was partying anyway, the people might just be persuaded to celebrate Jesus instead of the Earth. I’ve been told that the Bible hints at Jesus’ actual birthday being sometime in the fall. At any rate it worked pretty well.
I think that it is important to know the true history of things so that we understand what we take for granted and why. One problem that arises in shifting the celebration from the natural world to that of a holy man is that we no longer feel we belong to our own earth. Our spiritual emphasis has become human-centered, no longer do we revere and celebrate the Earth and all that live on her.
This may seem like a (deceptively) trivial point at this time of year but having all the old celebrations of nature and the seasons removed from our psyches has helped to cut the cord of kinship with our very surroundings, snowballing into an appalling human apathy when it comes to our planet and home. How can we talk about the winter wonderland while tossing an empty beer can into it? We got control and lost the connection.
As you sit by the fire on December 24, it doesn’t matter whether you choose to celebrate Christmas or Yule. They are equally religious and beautiful holidays and past misdemeanors really don’t matter anymore. The theme is still one of bringing light into our homes and hearts and remembering to love.
Whatever your spiritual beliefs let them include one of the greatest gifts God or Goddess gave us: the earth. That said, Jesus is part of the godhead, but so is the earth – so how can we sing the praises of one and ignore or even harm the other? It makes no sense to me.
What matters this holiday season is that we choose to revere and honor all of life and the spirit of the God/Goddess inherent in it – called Jesus, the Earth or our other fellow beings.
So in that spirit, go on out and commune with some stark, yet still quite lovely scenery. The way the snow shines like a million diamonds on the hill, the color of the birds at the feeder all flutter and fancy in the still air, the whisper of a deer walking through the woods, a gentle reminder to slow down and breathe within our busy lives.
These are things we can enjoy with or without money and they bring us ever closer to a connection with the incredible life we’ve been given and the beauty of it.
When we stop and turn our attention to the natural world, and care for it, we raise our awareness of a gift we may have forgotten we have and help us to feel gratitude for who put us here. It all leads to the same place of holy reverence because we are all part of the same life force, are we not? It’s a circle, but we have to make more of an effort now, because we have no routine seasonal ceremonies to remind us of the honor we hold.
During this time of rebirth, let’s give rise to an attitude of inclusiveness, along with the love and joy, embracing not only our fellow human hearts and minds, but the others we share this planet with. For by honoring them we honor their (and our) Maker.
May the power of the season continue to inspire you throughout the year, Merry Christmas and Happy Yule.