Today is the winter solstice, the solar nadir in the northern hemisphere, a temporal event in Spaceship Earth’s rotations where the sun takes its lowest path through our sky and the daytime is least: the astronomical New Year. This is an event that many wise have encouraged us to recognise as the origin of our ‘modern’ festive experience. The word solstice in fact derives from the Latin Sol meaning Sun and sistere which means to stand still, because this is exactly what it appears to do. Our sun, having clambered ever lower over the horizon since midsummer, seems to be disappearing, perhaps eternally, an experience which was no doubt,a source of unquestionable anxiety to early peoples. When the sun was henceforth ‘reborn’ from the horizon, into a fresh cycle of light, there was much rapture and hedonistic release; it is not hard to recognise a common origin for the many religious rebirth mythologies in this event.
To be reminded of these facts is important, because they are rarely noted in this post(?)-Christian, cultural climate, even though their significance is worthy of attention. All eyes are turned to the coming of Christ-mass, the so-called hallowed birth date of Yeshua Ben Joseph, coupled with the modern expectations of techni-coloured and infinitely animated, consumerist delights (To those of a Christian persuasion, seriously note the transfiguration of meaning). The anti-consumerist Christmas polemic can be left to adequate others, nevertheless, Christmas, and all communal festivals of its ilk, does demand analysis.
The 25th of December was typically the winter solstice in the Julian calendar (the solstice moves , relative to our calendars, being a tricksy and absolute astronomical bugger; Universe cares not for our overlays), a time when, amongst others, the pagan festival of Sol Invinctus was celebrated. This festival was eventually opportunistically hi-jacked by the Catholic Church and inevitably overlain with their own spurious, yet tangibly co-opted, mythology, one that successfully (even if unintentionally) drew attention away from the deeper resonance and historicity of the occasion (also recall Easter). The 25th in the Julian calendar became the 21st in the Gregorian, and the ancient celebration of a new year moved with it, Christ-mass now a specious simulacrum of what it once was. As a date is only meaningful inside the context of a calendar, there is something to pay heed to as we celebrate the arbitrary 'New Year’ of January the 1st. In the sense that all calendars are arbitrary (although occasionally useful), human overlays on the passage of time, we are brought back to the winter solstice.
The solstice represents something tangible, relatively absolute and inviolable, at a time of year when humans are rightly inclined to celebrate light, life and community, in the darkness of winter. Perhaps now we can reinvigorate it, and put it at its proper place in the pantheon of human occasion. Essentially though, what is important, is that people pay more conscious attention to the moments in their lives to which collective significance is attached, although having said that, by all means find time to feast, dance and revel, in the hedonic experience of your existence, whenever and however you see fit.
In these moments of transient collectivity it has become more important than ever (considering the unfolding realities of our economic and physical climate), to recognise and reinforce the significance and sanctity of community, tribe and environment. The need for the continued avoidance of being carried into wasteful, and oft insidiously wrought, socially reflexive behaviours, is evermore urgent. More than ever we should be chastened by the need to re-rediscover that which is genuinely valuable and necessary;for the sake of all our well-being. Love and respect do not require the latest glittery plastic toss to substantiate them, communication and empathy are always the profoundest and most valued of gifts. So, take a stroll and remember to remember, look at the trees, and notice the shape of each others hands.
Bah Humbug! Wink.
P.S. Muse on this image whilst thinking of Santa suits and the mythology of flying reindeer:
Amanita Muscaria (Fly Agaric)