Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The longest night

The longest night of the year is is tonight.

Thank goodness.

The turning point is reached, and the light will slowly return to us here in the northern hemisphere, bringing warmer weather and brighter days, and the beginning of another cycle.

The world rotates and revolves in her own wee path, accompanied by her solitary moon. A remarkably stable little planet in an uninterestingly small planetary system in an unremarkable galaxy, for right now she's all we've got, and the cycles of life here on her surface are observed with reverence and hope.

Well, at least here in the northern part of the northern hemisphere, and probably in the southern parts of the southern hemisphere.


But what about people who live near the equator, for whom all days are like the other, for whom no seasonal cycles are truly discernible? Do they celebrate a season of change and renewal as we in the 4-seasons areas do? Do they notice the passage of days in their lives, or is life a smooth flow of hour into hour and life into life?

From what I can tell it looks like those in more equatorial areas focus their celebrations on life stages rather than earth stages - birth, puberty, marriage, and death are central.

How odd, then, it must have been for peoples of these cultures to be exposed to the Christian ideals by early missionaries, who suggested that their close ties with nature were somehow less satisfying to the great god than the celebration of an artificial ("seasonal") earth cycle that had a central focus on a MAN who was supposed to save them because he had already DIED?

If I was a Samoan or Fijian who was meeting my first missionary, I'd have to wonder who exactly the barbarian was. If I was already in a strong family system that gave thanks to the earth and the fullness thereof, living closely to the wind and soil and sea, what benefit would there be in me altering that great praise to be channeled through a long-dead man? How would it be better to talk to some dead person than to talk directly with the god of the sea if I needed a good catch? How would it be better to ask some formerly flesh-and-blood creature to spare a sick child than it would be to use the earth to try to heal in the ways taught through the ages? There would be no continuity with the forefathers if I shunned their teachings and started to worship a corpse. There would be no sense in the thought that that dead can rise again and ascend into the clouds, or that just because one fellow disappeared from a tomb we should believe that all of us can. Why, people go missing from the burial grounds on this island all the time, and those in our family know it's the animals that do it.

Missionaries can be very silly people, I would say. "Let's eat him," I would think.

It's a wonder people in certain parts of the world EVER got converted. The pull of hope is strong indeed.


Hmmm, took a bit of a turn there from what I'd originally intended, but what the heck.

The main idea was to have been that for those of us north of the equator, today marks the day with the longest amount of night, which is a reason for reflection and celebration. Long-ancient traditions and religions observed this day as a time of hope and looking forward. The old colors of Yule were red and green and white, the roman solstice celebrations were on December 25th, the holly and ivy were druidic symbols of the solstice, the Yule log was meant to burn all night as a welcome to the returning light, candles were lit in ancient homes to bring the sunlight back, and on and on and on.

So, to all y'all, whatever the reason for your celebrations, whatever your god or panoply thereof, whatever your religious affiliation,

Happy holiday.

May you observe and celebrate this season in whatever way you see fit, in whatever custom you've been taught or discovered, with whomever you choose, and whenever is right for you.

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