Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Victory of Light

The precise moment of the 2006 winter solstice will be December 21, 2006 at 7:22 P.M. EST.

For some reason I am very attuned to the winter solstice, that moment when the days cease to become shorter, and daylight at last overcomes darkness and begins to gain on it. Maybe it’s because I was born only a couple of days before the solstice, and maybe because my moods are so affected by light – but I look forward to the last of the shortening days and the first of the lengthening days as a child looks forward to Christmas.

Of course the winter solstice IS Christmas and has been the occasion for a multitude of other human rituals and celebrations for thousands of years. It is also, by any logical symbolism, the beginning of the new year, even though our calendar starts the fresh year a few days late.

For weeks I’ve been watching Weather Underground (“Astronomy”) to see just how much shorter each tomorrow will be. As we have gradually moved from “tomorrow will be 1m 24s shorter” than today to the current “tomorrow will be 2s shorter”, I can hardly wait to see “longer” replace “shorter”. It feels as if a great stone pivot is slowing as it reaches an extreme point, balancing, and getting ready to swing back, bringing earlier sunrises, later sunsets, more and more light, and the promise of warmth and budding plants.

It’s hard for me to imagine that ancient humans – the more intelligent of whom were at least as intelligent as our best – really believed that they needed to HELP the Sun or its representative deity overcome the growing darkness, as we’re told they did. But ancient societies did put a lot of skill and effort and heavy construction into measuring the precise time of the winter solstice, and they did not have our knowledge of the cyclical astronomical causes of solstices to use as a basis of prediction. It would have been at least as satisfying to them as it is to me to be assured that once more the withdrawing Sun had decided not to keep moving away and let darkness reign forever, but instead is beginning a renewed journey toward the peak of the sky.

Celebrate, all! Let’s put Sol back into Solstice.

Light the fires, deck the halls, carry evergreens and mistletoe from the forests, fill our tables with fragrant feasts, let our music rise above the clouds. The blazing visible embodiment of God is returning. Only two more days!

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