You live in a prescientific world and notice the amount of sunlight decrease each day, which for you means less time to find food. You wonder if the sun will soon completely vanish and life will end for you in one long cold night. But it doesn’t. Suddenly, miraculously, the day grows longer. The gods have answered your prayers, and there is cause for celebration!
Which is why late December is the holiday season a zillion years later.
Today is the Winter Solstice in Los Angeles (8:49pm PST to be exact), that “shortest day of the year” that signals this darkness/daylight transition and explains why December 25 or so has historically been filled with celebration.
If you are interested, Christians began to co-opt the party about seventeen centuries ago to celebrate Jesus’s unknown birthday and the many pagan traditions that Christians carried into the holiday such as trees, reindeer, gift-giving, and mistletoe led subsequent Christian groups (including Puritans in the American colonies) to unsuccessful attempts to take the Christmas out of Christmas.¹ Those attempts aside, still today, ‘tis the season to be jolly.
Call me a pagan, but for the moment I’m skipping over the religious overtones and arguments to say that I love the astronomical metaphor at this time of year. The darkness has now reached its zenith, and light is about to take the reins.²
I of all people do not want to sound pessimistic, but I have sensed a growing darkness in both rhetoric and reality in this world of ours. It isn’t a stretch of the imagination to identify with those prescientific worriers in thinking that death, destruction, and division just might win and leave us alone in a long cold night. But here is my pledge: I promise to keep watch for more light, and when I see it, to shout the news and unleash the party.³
Let there be light.
¹ My faith tradition used to be somewhat in that crowd, taking the ironic position of being Christians who were okay with celebrating the non-religious parts of Christmas but not the religious parts since December 25 was surely not Jesus’s birthday, i.e., we were the rare Christians attempting to take the Christ out of Christmas. Maybe it was the irony, but I don’t hear that much from our tribe anymore.
² Ha, unintended-yet-sneaky Santa metaphor!
³ And I will warn you now: When I shout the news, the religious reference will be unavoidable: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1: 5 (New International).