What a sweet idea, James. Alas, I’ve been stuck in the netherworld of cyberspace (forgive me for mixing my metaphors), in limbo between an archaic, dying MacBook at its last gasp, and a brand new laptop with all the bells and whistles, trying to prep and load and transfer files and info and apps and such from old to new, right as so many end-of-the-year tasks raise their head and demand attention (and that’s not not even counting the holiday vortex we all tend to fall into).
So I have nothing profound or inspirational to share. However, this is what I did this weekend:
Raising and decorating a Christmas Tree is a ritual so many share this time of year, even those who aren’t particularly religious, or particularly Christian. But I grew up in a rigid Christian cult that viewed Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Halloween, as pagan in origins (true enough) and hence satanic (lots of shadow projection there!). So our family never celebrated Christmas during my childhood; I couldn’t participate in Christmas activities (or Valentine’s, Easter, etc.) at school, which included coloring Santa Clauses, cutting Christmas Trees out of construction paper, singing Christmas carols, drinking Christmas punch and eating Christmas cookies – and the last day of school before the holiday vacation I always had to leave early while the rest of the class enjoyed a Christmas party. And, or course, we couldn’t accept Christmas presents; relatives who forgot and sent gifts anyway had them returned.
It took a few years after leaving home before I got the hang of Christmas. It had always seemed no big deal to me – can’t miss what you’ve never had – but I found I enjoyed the happy music, the good cheer, the pretty lights, the excitement and joy of children, the fun of giving gifts, and all sorts of things I missed out on as a kid.
So when it comes to decorating the tree I tend to overcompensate for my childhood.
I really celebrate the Solstice – Yule (from the Old English geol, derived from *quelo-, an Indo-European root related to “wheel,” or “turn” – the turning point for the wheel of the year (which, from the position of the tomb at Newgrange and so many other ancient sites, of course including Stonehenge, that are aligned with the rising sun on the solstice, is the oldest, longest lasting ritual, celebrated by humankind for at least 5,000 years). Names and details differ among the many iterations, depending on one’s culture, of the ancient myth of the birth / rebirth of the Sun God (or Son of God) – that time when the Sun’s light begins to wax again.
On the Solstice – this year on December 21 – I engage in reflection and perform a few simple, yet poignant personal rituals. This is the moment when the sun stands still (Solstice – from Sol, “the Sun,” and stit – “make stand”); then, on the 25th, is more for participation in the joyful collective ritual celebrating new birth (this is generally the first day after the solstice that the change in the sun and the growth of the light is visible to the naked eye, which is why so many solar gods are born on December 25, including the Christ Child).
Tends to place one’s self in perspective, part of a mythic tradition celebrated by all humanity across millennia – and then to realize the cosmic cycle we all participate in, whether we want to or not, with the change of season and the eternal return of the light.
Decorating a solstice tree with lights and sparkling spheres and little tableaus tucked away deep within the boughs of the tree, pays homage to and participates in that stream stretching back into the distant past and on past the horizon into the future, and spreading out in this moment to encompass so many billions around the globe, whatever their professed faith, celebrating our unity – peace on earth and good will to all.
May you have a wild, wyrd, wonderful Winter Solstice, James