I love the winter solstice. Well, to be technically correct, it’s the winter solstice for those of us who live in the northern hemisphere. It’s the summer solstice for those below the equator. So it’s either the shortest day or longest day depending on where you live on the planet.
Either way, it signifies a seasonal change that most people notice. I confess my own body rhythms are affected by the seasons. There are two things I really dislike about winter: cold weather and shorter daylight. I would not do well living in Alaska or Antarctica.
Interestingly, every culture since the beginning of known history has celebrated the winter solstice. Even more interesting is the blending of these traditions that has occurred over the ages. Evergreens, wreaths, holly, ivy, and mistletoe are are used to decorate churches and homes of Christians. These borrowed traditions are actually from ancient Germanic and Roman winter solstice celebrations integrated by the church after Constantine bridged his empire with the Christians in the fourth century.
The people who are waging a war of words over Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays might want to take a look at words that are used in traditional Christmas carols. (Unfortunately, I don’t think any of them ready this blog). We’ve already talked about the references to trees, holly and ivy. Yule and yule log, used in Deck the Halls for example, was absorbed into Christianity from ancient Germanic pagan rituals. Carols like The Twelve Days of Christmas and I Saw Three Ships are religious metaphors. Most people have no idea what the metaphors reference. They just sing.
Maybe that’s what we need to do: just celebrate. The richness of our traditions is a blending of cultures and languages (Do you sing Gaudete which is in Latin for Rejoice? Stille Nacht, the German version of Silent Night?). It’s incorporating touchstones from the past re-visoned for the present. Traditions connect us with our past and become part of our story for the future. Let’s celebrate the richness of our diversity and the breadth of our beliefs.
So how are you going to celebrate the winter solstice? I’m probably going to sit in our holiday decorated living room, streaming my favorite radio station from San Francisco, and read a murder mystery! My college-bowl-interested husband, will probably set up his computer screen in the same room and watch online whatever college teams are playing. I’m thinking a toast with port to celebrate the days are getting longer is also in order.
The picture is Stanford Memorial Chapel and the solstice moon by Justin Kern.