It was supposed to be a celebration of the return of the sun, the rebirth of the light, to help us get past the gloom of the longest night of the year, which is Winter Solstice. It was supposed to lift our spirits and reassure us that spring will come again, summer warmth will happen, we are not trapped in the bleak heart of winter to die in the dark.
Yes, all the festivities, all the good cheer, really boils down to that. Human beings have been doing something to celebrate the Winter Solstice. Almost all of the traditions have something to do with worshipping, or trying to persuade, the sun, the light, to return, to be reborn and give us their blessing again, because at some level people seemed to realize without the sun there is no more warmth. Without the sun the crops will not grow, there will be no spring lambs, or calves, or . . . We’ve understood for thousands, upon thousands of years that without the sun we’re pretty much screwed so we plead with it to return. Most of the earliest sun religions were about trying to get the sun to keep coming back and helping us grow food, and raise our spirits once more into the light, and away from the darkness of midwinter.
Originally that’s what this time of year was about, and then came Hanukkah, and Christmas. They are also celebrations of light and love, of survival against tough odds, and the conquering of the light, the son, over the forces that would destroy us all. The Israelites survived yet another attempt to wipe them out as people by the miracle of the never ending oil that burned for eight miraculous days. Jesus survived Herod’s attempts to kill him, and the implication is that if he can make it through, so can we, and that we, too, can have the protection of the Virgin Mary, and her stout right hand St. Joseph, who was a carpenter and you just feel that anyone that’s down to earth enough to work with wood must have a good head on his shoulders. In America I think that Joseph is particularly relevant as we have more and more step-parents and blended family. Think about he was step-dad to the son of God, no pressure there. He must have been a remarkable man to have stood by Mary and Jesus, and then all their other children. I love the idea that Jesus was from a big family with lots of half-brothers and sisters. But then I really like the Gospel of Thomas, which the Church deemed too dangerous to put in the Bible, or perhaps too confusing. I love Thomas, he’s always been my favorite disciple. Doubting Thomas who is invited to put his finger in the wound of the risen Christ, because Thomas doesn’t believe he’s real. There’s a man after my own heart, let me touch it, let me test it – Thomas was a sceptic and a scientist at heart, and I love him for it, because I’d want to touch the evidence to, and if you wouldn’t want to touch the risen Christ, then I can’t explain it to you, I know only that I so would have.
But I digress, but then its me, and I tend to do that. This time of year was supposed to either be a rollicking party to help us brave our way through the winter dark, or high, holy time when we worship Deity and celebrate His, Her, Their return, or try to persuade them to return to us and bless us with their light and warmth. We, as people, have a profound need for this celebration or there wouldn’t be any New Grange, the neolithic tomb mound where the Winter Solstice sun comes into that profound dark and brings hope with it. The clouds cleared away enough for the sun to actually do it’s bright job this year. The pictures were awesome.
If any of you are offended by the fact that Christmas is just one in a long line of holidays this time of year, sorry, but it’s the truth. I think the God, Almighty, and his son, Jesus, are both secure enough to accept that Winter Solstice is an astrological event, and that Yule has been around longer than spring baby Jesus has been moved to be a midwinter baby. The Church needed a holiday to turn people’s ideas from drunken revelry and what the Church saw as debauchery, to something more holy, so Jesus’s birthday was moved. I wonder if any of the Church fathers, or mothers (there really have been some) understood that Jesus was joining a long line of sons, or sun celebrations, to welcome back the sun? If you don’t believe Jesus was a spring baby, that’s okay, but there are lambs to greet him in the manager, and shepherd’s watching over their flocks by night, you don’t sleep outside in winter in that part of the world, but there is something about this cold and dark that makes all of us, even the Church, want to put something here to remind us that life will return, that there will be lambs and warmth, and new babies.
So how did a celebration of light, warmth, and proof that Deity loves us and won’t leave us to die in the dark turn into crushing social obligations, and who can buy the bestest presents?
Well, the Romans gave out gifts during Saturnalia which was a very big celebration during this time of year. Some say it’s the gifts of the Magi that gave us the idea for gifts, because of their Frankincense, Myrrh, and gold gifts to the Baby Jesus, and lets face it, their parents. That does explain how Joseph was able to leave his carpentry behind and live for awhile, those were expensive gifts of the day. Other’s say it was an early Christian Bishop named Nicholas, who helped give rise to Santa Claus, because of his charity to children in his day, and throwing bags of gold down chimneys to land in women’s stockings as dowries, according to one story. But modern ideas of gift giving seem to really come from Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, and Clement Moore’s, A Visit from Saint Nicholas. It’s actually a very late addition to Christmas, all this gift giving, and yet it seems to overwhelm everything here in the States.
We worry about finding the perfect gift. People will put themselves in so much debt for this one season of gift giving that they spend the rest of the year paying it off. People say, don’t get me anything, and sometimes they mean it, or sometimes they keep score more than anyone else. It’s an emotional and familial politics minefield. The guilt if you can’t get your child that super popular present is very real for a lot of families. When did it become a contest to see who can spend the most money? When did gifts equate to how much you love your family? When did this season of buying become the make, or break, for most retail businesses? I’ve been researching and I can’t find enough agreement on any of the above to be certain, but I do know that whatever this holiday is about to you and yours, it’s not supposed to be about who has the most toys, the most stuff. It’s supposed to be about love and fun. Either God loves us, or Jesus loves us, or we’re supposed to be having wonderful raucous parties and orgies for Saturn and “love” lots, or raise a glass to Odin and the Norse and have a huge party with our friends and families, or we just light a fire and help chase away the darkness knowing that Deity really does love and care for the Earth, animals, and people it and will not leave us to die in the cold dark. It’s a fertility festival, a celebration of life, and birth, thrown into the face of the darkest, deadest, part of the year – we’re supposed to celebrate life, whatever that means to each us.
So celebrate life and love today, whether that means being with huge extended family, or family of choice, or just with your spouse/partner, or just you and your pets, or just you. Remember in all this gift giving and forced merry making that you’re supposed to love yourself, too, and sometimes a little time to yourself is the greatest gift of all. So whether you are knee deep in children and the post gift explosion of presents, or you are enjoying that first cup of tea with no one, but yourself enjoy this moment and remember it really isn’t about the gifts, it’s about the love.
Posted by LKH
at 10:53:20 am on December 25, 2013