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December 13th, 2023

When The Sunlight Wanes And You Are Surprised At How Quickly The Night Comes…

My annual reminder of why the various faiths and secular peoples celebrate Solstice this time of year, under various names. Or as I wrote some years ago: …because a friend is uneasy about saying “Merry Christmas” this year. There was more to this post but I won’t repeat it because it’s irrelevant. However it began with a slam at Andrew Sullivan via Matthew Yglesias who noted that Sullivan seemed to think holiday cheer is a liberal conspiracy. Why not say “Happy Christmas” (it’s an anglicism apparently) Too much diversity. “Don’t despair. It will all be over soon enough.” Just shut up Andrew. There’s more to it than the trappings of any one religion. Something deeper, more ancient, and more reverent. Something perhaps only those of us in the high northern latitudes get to appreciate this time of year…

(The following is edited a tad from previous versions…)

The holidays have always been a semi-solitary time for me. Being an only child probably made the holidays in my house quieter then most. After present opening I basically sat on my hands the rest of the day. I was always told it was impolite to call up my friends to play. They were supposed to be spending Christmas with their families. So for me, the best day was always the day after Christmas, when all the neighborhood kids would get together and compare our loot. That’s still basically the way it is for me. I get together with friends and family before and after the holiday, but the day itself is my quiet time.

I am not a misanthrope, but a hate phoniness. I dislike advertising, intensely, and especially when that advertising takes something real and wonderful, like love and sex, and turns it into a gimmick to sell cheap junk no sane person would want in their house. Every year of my life I have watched the holidays become more and more commercial. But this one time of year I make an exception. I will never hate the Christmas trimmings, the Santa Clones, the plastic holly, shopping mall creches, plug in candles, and mass marketed holiday spirit. For this one time of the year I am willing to let it all in, and even relish in it.

I remember one Christmas day when I was a kid, while my folks prepared dinner, I walked way out past the apartments into a field by a small creek. I wandered further then I normally went and sat down by a big rock. It was cold, and gray and there were no other kids outside because they were all inside doing whatever they did with their families that day. There weren’t even any birds or animals that I could see. The temperature was something like in the teens and nothing moved. The only sound was the wind which was gusting very strongly through the trees; even when it wasn’t blowing in my face I could still hear it howling somewhere not far by, as though it was looking for something.

The trees surrounding me were bare wooden sticks held against a grey sky. Their fallen leaves on the ground had been compacted by several rains and at least one snowfall that had only partly disappeared. There were some ice patches left on the ground and the creek was frozen solid. I was a very slightly built little kid and even now being warm when I’m outside is something I take care about. I turned my face towards the sun and I couldn’t feel the slightest shred of heat.

I remember thinking that if I was a caveman who had never seen the likes of this before, I would be sure that the world was dying. I had a pretty good idea then of how the motion of the Earth worked to produce the seasons; I tried to block that knowledge out and think of what it would be like to experience winter without knowing, to watch everything get colder and colder until there was nothing left but the wind restlessly looking for something else that moved. I think I understood then why some people are such sourpusses, and why I wasn’t one of them.

Solstice are the most ancient of rites for a reason. I don’t mind the plastic lighted Santas or the relentless Christmas muzak in the shopping centers, or the wire reindeer with motorized heads. I don’t mind the relentless crowds of shop til you drop shoppers. I will even accept manufactured exuberance side by side with the heartfelt joy of total strangers this time of year. I walk among it all, drinking it in, taking time to find something, some little gift or card, to give to the ones who make my life sweet, even if it means wading through forests of vinyl pine. Tell yourself that it is tradition and all in good fun if you want, but it is really nothing less than an ancient reflex that arises when the earth grows cold and still and the sunlight wanes and you are surprised by how quickly the night comes, to be good to your neighbors, and tell the ones close to your heart that you love them, and blaze defiantly into the night.


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