Holding Still

For some people today is the start of the “holiday season.”  Thanksgiving begins what often becomes a rush up until Christmas.  Moods tend to be more festive, if not carefree.  As for me, I always save up vacation days so that I can make my own mini “semester break” late in December.  From the onset of the holiday season I can see far enough to be able to make it through the rest of the year.  For me the season seems to begin at Halloween.  It’s not a federal holiday and I don’t know anyone who gets Halloween off of work, but I take holidays seriously, and Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are all anticipated days.  And in the spirit of the day, I’m thinking of the many things for which I’m thankful.

Family, friends, and health go without saying.  I really don’t need a holiday to remind me to be grateful for these things.  This year I’m thankful to have made it back from Denver unscathed.  Since it was over twelve hours of travel (less than three of those hours spent in flight) to get home, it was a long, weary, mask-wearing day of travel.  Denver Airport is nearly an hour from downtown.  The American Airlines agent was able to get me an earlier flight to Chicago.  My reading was disrupted by sleepiness and the fact that the woman next to me was watching Jordan Peele’s Nope on her laptop.  I’ve been meaning to watch it again, so I hope I wasn’t obvious when I didn’t strictly observe the custody of my eyes.  The most grueling part, however, was the four-hour layover in Chicago’s O’Hare.  

No matter what the owners do, there’s a limit to how comfortable airport waiting can be.  You have to keep a constant eye on your bags.  Very, very few people are wearing masks.  And two days before Thanksgiving is a busy travel day with people trying to avoid the busiest travel day of the year (yesterday).  I’m thankful to have gotten home and not to have been too much the worse for the wear.  And I’m thankful to spend a day not having to wear a mask.  It’s funny how having to wear one for five straight days all day long can become a point of dread.  I like being able to take a drink of water without having to pull down a mask.  Returning to life as usual will take some adjustment—it always does.  So much travel after spending years not doing it is a bit of a shock to the system.  I’m reminded of one of the most colourful place names we encountered in the highlands of Scotland, and it is my theme this Thanksgiving: Rest and Be Thankful.

Rest and Be Thankful, unknown photographer

Scary Holidays

One of the real wonder of books is that they can spawn ideas outside their specific topics.  While revised dissertations can be somewhat difficult to read, Derek Johnston’s Haunted Seasons: Television Ghost Stories for Christmas and Horror for Halloween contains quite a few such moments of birthing ideas.  While being largely British-focused, it nevertheless explores holiday horror, a phenomenon that I’ve been researching for some time.  Not really a television watcher (not any more—as a child things were quite different), I don’t really keep up with many programs.  Still, I learned a lot from this book.  One of the main questions it addresses is something I’ve long wondered about—why is there a connection between Christmas and ghost stories in England?

Johnston points out that Celtic areas tended to have Halloween or its precursors to supply an occasion for otherworldly thinking.  The English, not wanting to think of themselves as these outer-lying cultures (I’m simplifying and abstracting a bit here), developed their own tradition of the Christmas ghost story.  It pre-dates Dickens and probably goes far enough back in history that there’s no way to trace it.  Telling ghost stories around the shortest day of the year makes its own sense.  Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was perhaps the most famous example, but M. R. James’ habit of telling ghost stories (later published) to students and fellow enthusiasts on Christmas Eve also plays into it.  In Britain this led to a series of BBC Ghost Story for Christmas shows.  Meanwhile, in America, where there was quite a lot of Celtic immigration, a taste for Halloween grew.

There are so many ideas that swirl around holidays.  I’ve been exploring the topic for nearly two decades now.  Publishers, always with their eyes on the bottom line, don’t produce much like this, figuring people will only buy it one season a year, and for books that means usually the first year only.  Some people (yours truly, for one) will buy books about holidays out of season.  So much of life is preparing for special times.  I suspect that ancient people also fell into humdrum daily existences also.  Humans require stimulation, we like variety and novelty.  Holidays are a great solution—they don’t occur every day.  If they did they wouldn’t be special.  They bring something different into our workaday world and, in modern times especially, we brand them so that each one is at least slightly different.  I don’t mind seeing the seasonal displays so early in the stores—it reminds me that haunted seasons are just around the corner.


Spring Forward

Spring officially arrives in the northern hemisphere today.  Days will be longer than nights for six months after this and many pagans will be celebrating Ostara.  Named after Ēostre, the goddess who apparently gave Easter its name, Ostara is an amalgam of the various equinox feasts and observations of antiquity.  The ancient Celts, as far as we know, held four particular holidays that fall roughly halfway between the solstices and equinoxes, with February marking Imbolc and Beltane yet to come in May.  We don’t know that they celebrated the equinox, but we don’t know that they didn’t either.  Equinoxes are a bit difficult to measure precisely with the sun’s position overhead, but we know the clever folks responsible for Stonehenge and Maes Howe could do such things, even in antiquity.

Ostara, maybe

According to Bede the Anglo-Saxons had several feasts for the goddess Ēostre.  Luckily (from his perspective), Christians had Pascha (Easter) some time near the equinox.  It’s late this year, however, since we just had the full moon (the “Worm Moon”) on Friday.  Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.  So today we’ve got Ēostre.  We know little of her beyond Bede.  Ancient Germanic peoples, like the ancient Celts, didn’t keep extensive written records.  Their religions, based on what we know of most ancient religions, were likely lively affairs.  Spring is a celebratory season and already buds and blossoms are appearing around here.  Goddess or no, there’s a feminine wonderment about the season.  It’s difficult not to feel at least a little hopeful.

Ancient deities have long been a source of fascination.  Eclipsed by an aggressively political Christianity, many of them vanished without leaving us many traces at all.  The human mind seems inclined to create gods to explain this strange but wonderful world we inhabit.  It’s clear that it wasn’t made just for us.  The birds and insects, and even the elusive reptiles and amphibians, are beginning to reappear.  Many mammals and some birds rough it through the cold hoping to emerge again into the warmth of spring.  We’ve had some warm days already, but there are likely more cold ones to come.  As the pagan gods, as Ēostre remind(s) us, transitions come in fits and starts.  Setbacks are part of progress.  Many of us believe the moral arc of the universe tends toward what is good and right.  It may take a long time to arrive, but the equinox, in its very name, bears the clue.


Anticipating Holidays

There’s that mundanity that sets in after the twelve days of Christmas are over that reminds us we’re back into regular time.  Many people no longer believe in the sacred, but the holidays are still sacred time.  January can be kind of stark that way.  Once we reach Halloween the rest of the year seems achievable, but there’s a lot to do between now and then.  Reemerging from the run-up to the holidays—it’s the long period of anticipation for the rest that comes at the end of the  year—back to what is now being called BAU (business as usual) is like cold water on your face first thing in the morning.  Each time I wonder if I’ll have the energy to do it all again.

Holidays punctuate and define our year.  It may be that your December holiday is fading now to a (hopefully) pleasant memory, but depending on your employer you might have Martin Luther King Day coming up soon.  I’ve known people to complain that it comes too soon after they’ve already had a few days off and they’d rather have a different day, later.  That kind of misses the point.  Business analysts (whom business leaders listen too except when they don’t like what they say) suggest that the four-day work week is sufficient to achieve what we need, now that we’re connected all the time.  Some jobs, of course, require your physical body to be in a specific geographic location and there’s not much that can be done about that.  Hours can be reduced if more people are hired, but we’re going through a strange period of people quitting their jobs.  I’ve always wondered what that must feel like.  Is it like a long holiday, only with even more financial worries?

The twelve days are over, and although I didn’t have all of them off I kind of wonder where they went.  Some folks are eager to get the tree down and decorations put away.  To look out at the blank canvas of snow and envision how to paint the year ahead.  Others of us see the wisdom of hibernation.  Bears seem to have the right idea.  Still, I enjoy the starkness of January.  The cold can be bracing and the snow a chore to remove.  But being out in it can become a kind of holiday in its own right.  Our time on earth should be a time of celebration, even as we look forward to the holidays later this year.


Twilight on Christmas

We have too many ornaments for the single Christmas tree we can afford.  There are few reasons for this.  One is that I married into a family with Christmas ornaments.  While on my own I never set up a tree and I owned very little beyond books and some LPs.  Besides, I went home for Christmas.  Another reason is that although I seldom think of Christmas before December, we tend to buy ornaments as souvenirs.  Not for everywhere we go, but we did start a ship sub-collection when visiting coastal locations.  We also have a moose sub-collection.  I spent quite a bit of my early adulthood out in the woods looking for moose, generally in Maine.  Then there’s the “other sub-collection.”  The one that’s be relegated to it’s own mini-tree.

To understand this, let me begin by noting that Christmas is the birthday of Rod Serling (shoutout to my friend John Morehead for pointing this out).  Rod Serling is one of the reasons—he can’t take all the blame, of course—that I’m interested in strange things.  The Twilight Zone affected me profoundly as a child, and probably had more impact on my life trajectory than I might’ve realized.  The “other sub-collection” consists of the weird ornaments.  It began with a Cthulhu ornament I found online a few years back.  Then, at a fair trade shop in Ithaca, I found a yeti ornament.  How could I not support fair trade?  This year at Christkindlmarkt I found an alien head made from a recycled Christmas tree trunk round.  It seems my strange Christmas ideas aren’t unique.

Bethlehem styles itself “Christmas City.”  The celebration in the Lehigh Valley is palpable.  My family generally spends a December Saturday strolling up and down Main Street, visiting the quaint shops.  Last year one of them had ornaments of sasquatch skiing.  I didn’t buy it, thinking someone might pick up on my pointing it out.  This year I went back to the store but they didn’t have it any longer.  A quick online search, however, revealed many options for a cryptid Christmas.  What can I say?  These things make me happy!  This year I’ve been thinking quite a bit about ghosts and the holidays.  It’s an ancient connection that has been lost to the commercialization of Yule and Saturnalia and other December celebrations.  So, Rod Serling was actually born on Christmas day.  I hope that however you celebrate this day it will bring you joy, no matter how weird.


At Last, Yule

It all depends on how you look at it.  Today is either the longest night or the beginning of the return of the light.  It’s the winter solstice, that time that has been considered haunted for centuries, when the spirit world is once again close to the “material world.”  Slowly, incrementally the light will increase from this point on.  It will take a couple months for the effect to be really noticeable, and the weather here in the northern hemisphere will trail a bit behind and grow colder as the sky starts to lighten up a little.  This juxtaposition likely led to the germanic festival of Yule, which has become conflated with Christmas.  Carols tell us of Yule logs at Christmas and some cultures call Christmas itself Yule.

If you consider this day there are again two ways to ponder—appreciating the dark for its own benefits or looking for the return of light.  No doubt, lights are everywhere.  My town has the central part lit with holiday lights and just this weekend Bethlehem had hundreds of luminaria lining the sidewalks, encouraging the return of light.  Yule, it seems to me, catches people at their best.  Christmas isn’t quite here yet and people are still kindly disposed to others, coming out to see the lights and feeling carefree, assured that light will return but making the most of life before it becomes humdrum again.  We put out our lights, perhaps a little afraid of all this darkness, but at the same time trying to appreciate the restfulness of long nights.  Darkness isn’t evil, even if it works that way as a metaphor.

Learning from the dark is under appreciated.  As a species we rely heavily on the benefits of sight.  It’s natural to be a little afraid when we can’t see.  Still, the dark has its own regenerative value.  Our bodies actually benefit from being in the dark a few hours each day.  Our minds can benefit from the rest.  I always think back to the days before electricity allowed us to chase away the night.  How much more intensely the night would’ve been felt.  Even with our artificial lights nothing can compare with the light scatter of our own skies as the sun’s powerful lumens flood our hemisphere.  Yule seems the appropriate time to think about the contrast, but not conflict between light and dark.  The idea that opposites must fight doesn’t really help us in this world of many contrasts.  Isn’t it better to ponder how we might learn from the dark?


Old and New

Annual holiday traditions show just how deeply ritual is established in our behavior.  As the holiday season rolls around we find our familiar customs to be fun and comforting.  I’m not much of a commercialist; for me the end-of-year celebrations are mostly about rest and peace, still a family tradition since settling in the Lehigh Valley is the Christkindlmarkt.  Bethlehem, founded on Christmas Eve by Moravians, has attempted to live up to its namesake and celebrate the season well.  It’s become an established family tradition to visit the Christkindlmarkt and we wander the tents with artisanal goods, some Christmas-themed, and others more just gift-ideas.  We seldom buy much.  It’s the spirit of the holidays that seems to come through and we need something to help us get through winter.

Each year things are a little different.  Many of the mainstays are similar, however, with the same vendors with the same merchandise.  What has changed in the past year is really us.  We’re not the only ones who make an annual tradition of this and we’re not the only ones who see the same scarves, sweaters, pillows, and pottery.  And ornaments—lots of ornaments.  We see new things because we’re different from our selves who’ve wandered through here before.  Hopefully we’re better selves.  Each time I do this I find myself growing more and more reflective.  A celebration of peace and love to all seems to hold, for the most part.  There are lots of people—too many for my comfort at this stage of the pandemic, but we’re wearing masks and hopefully most of these people are vaccinated—peace and love for all.

The end of the year has long been a season of festivities.  Even ancient peoples, especially in temperate regions, longed for the return of warmth and light.  In response to the long hours of darkness around the solstice they instituted holidays.  Times for us to get together and work a little less and relax a little more, recharging our spiritual batteries.  Yule with its Christmas trees and logs, served to bring the message of light into the darkness.  The twinkling of holiday lights is a festive sight, bringing back childhood memories of gifts, special foods, and time off from school.  I’m a different person than the one who’s written a blog post about Christkindlmarkt in the past.  If you’ve read such posts you’re a different person now too.  We all hope that the present person is a better one than the previous as we enter this season of joy and kindness.


Not Shopping

Santa Claus arrived at the end of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade yesterday.  I actually began seeing Christmas paraphernalia in stores before Halloween.  It feels like we could really use Christmas this year.  We all thought 2020 was a difficult year and 2021 hasn’t been much easier.  The capitalist response—so shallow, but it’s all we’re left with—is to shop to make yourself feel better.  Sometimes it’s the simple things: time off work, time with family, time for reading, time itself.  Time heals most things.  People, however, aren’t the most patient of creatures.  Our desires seem so urgent and cash or credit seems to offer a way of achieving them.  Black Friday is entirely from the business perspective.  A day off work to get people out and spending.  Outspending.

Black Friday has traditionally been one of my favorite days for staying home, reading and writing.  Indeed, Thanksgiving is the only annual four-day weekend most of us are given.  I haven’t used this day for shopping.  Crowds are about and so is an insidious virus that we can’t seem to contain.  It feels more comfy and secure to stay in my drafty house and use the time to recover from the capitalism that dominates the rest of my days.  A day to not shop.  A day to think.  The idea of having quiet holidays to ground oneself seems like a progressive idea.  We all find our own ways of centering, even if we don’t call it that.  For some I suppose that’s shopping, but that’s just not me.

This year I’m spending the day with extended family in Iowa.  I flew out on the busiest travel day of the year to ground myself in the heartland.  It’s a day I need not work and I need not shop.  I find my meaning elsewhere this Black Friday.  The term began with a negative connotation, referring to workers in the early fifties calling in sick that day in order to get a four-day weekend.  It was also used in the next decade to describe the traffic congestion as people went out to start their shopping.  It was really only in the eighties that the term took on its current meaning of a day when retailers go into the black by earning profits from the influx of cash the day brings.  Santa had come the previous day and wallets were open and those with the day off work wanted to spend it spending.  I’m here in Iowa, glad to be avoiding the stores and the contagion, and enjoying the quiet of not having to clock in.


Holiday Season

Halloween, in some ways, is the unofficial kick-off of the holiday season.  This was made clear to me when someone recently played the song “Soul Cake” in the context of Halloween.  I’d only ever heard the song in a Christmas context before, and a little research led to the discovery that asking for soul cakes originated as a Halloween custom (before it was called Halloween, even) but was considered appropriate anywhere from All Hallows through the twelve days of Christmas.  The common thread here is, of course, gift giving.  We tend to keep our holidays discrete for commercial reasons but there is a natural continuity from All Hallows Eve through what used to be known as Epiphany (now Insurrection Day).

Holidays help us prepare for things that we know are coming.  For the Celts, Samhain—which led to our Halloween—was the start of winter.  With no Daylight Saving Time to oppress them with the changing of their clocks and throwing everything off for weeks at a time, this was the dark part of the year.  Holidays are helpful in getting through times when natural light is lacking.  From Halloween you can almost see Thanksgiving.  At Thanksgiving we anticipate Christmas.  The winter solstice holidays see us through the shortest, darkest days of the year.  I’m no fan of capitalism, but as long as we’re stuck with it I wonder why we don’t advocate for Halloween as an official holiday.  The start of the holiday season.  In my local town the Christmas lights went up on November 1.

East and south Asian religions spend considerable energy teaching that change is the only permanent aspect of life.  Western cultures, on the other hand, focus on the status quo, the assumption that once something is established, it will, or should, remain as it is.  Time reminds us that change is constant.  We can allow entropy to win by sitting by and letting things fall apart, or we can try to build something useful to prevent a collapse.  Holidays change over time and over religions.  Halloween was a pre-Christian new year celebration.  From there it changed into a solemn holy day to remember saints and then the dead.  Incorporating aspects of Samhain and some customs such as soul cake begging and guising, it grew to a more fun celebration.  Now it’s a commercial occasion to rival Christmas.  The year is constantly changing.  Just when I start looking for my sweaters I see my light summer clothes haven’t yet been put away.  I look forward to Halloween as the start of the holiday season until we get past the longest night just before Yule.


Ship Shop

I support the US Post Office.  As someone who still prefers print to electronic, having something actually delivered remains a thrill.  I have to confess, however, that electronic bills are much more convenient.  In any case, with Trump’s war on the mail (he seemed to hate everything), and lack of interest in the Covid-19 pandemic, shipping has been slowed down considerably.  People stayed at home and had Christmas shipped this past year, and, combined with the idiotic cuts to the Post Office budget, things were (and continue to be) delayed.  In this extended season of shipping I’ve had two packages that tracking services have told me had been delivered but, in reality, weren’t.  At least they weren’t delivered to me when the tracking indicated they were.  Of course, package thieves do exist.  I suspect that, if stolen, my items raised an eyebrow or two.

Most recently I had a notice of a Saturday afternoon delivery.  Said item wasn’t there when I checked my mailbox about half-an-hour later.  Someone could’ve idled on by and taken it in that time, I suppose, because the USPS said it was “in or near the mailbox.”  Now, my mailbox is down at sidewalk level.  The porch is a short distance away.  When I went out on Saturday it was in neither location.  Back before Christmas Amazon did the same thing, telling me that a package (small enough to fit easily in my mailbox) had been left in “a secure location.”  So secure that I couldn’t find it.  I even went outside in the dark with a flashlight after watching a horror movie to search for it.  That one, it turned out, had been delivered to an honest neighbor who brought it over after daylight returned.

The tracking notice that says “delivered” means nothing if the package isn’t actually there.  Hide-n-seek instructions simply aren’t helpful.  The way our mailbox is situated the only “near” is on the open ground.  Pandemic life is difficult.  If 45 had had any compassion for the average person needing a lifeline (rather than his self need to be in the spotlight) he would’ve strengthened the Post Office rather than gutting it.  Many people rely on it for the delivery of their medications.  For some of us it’s more a matter of awaiting some token of our preserved sanity.  As it is the tracking notice claimed I had items never received.  This may be a parable for the Trump Nightmare Administration after all.  Then, about two weeks after it had been officially delivered, my package arrived one day unannounced.  Parable indeed.


Manifest Duty

As slaves to Mammon our celebrations are frequently curtailed.  In agricultural culture, winter was a time when fields couldn’t be cultivated (at least in northern climes) and thus the twelve days of Christmas could be relaxed without much consequence.  The history of this holiday complex is fascinating, and while many of us have been back to work for a few days already, today, Epiphany, is the “official” end of the season.  Twelfth Night, in some traditions yesterday and in others today, was a day of celebration, the twelfth day of Christmas.  Ancient pre-Christmas holidays such as Saturnalia lasted several days.  Today’s business world frequently gives a Scrooge-like single day off and many of us spend our hard-earned vacation days to fill out the week that is inevitably slow at work otherwise.

In Christianity, until recent times, Epiphany was a bigger holiday than Christmas.  Of the two it was the original day for gift-giving,  That makes sense in the commemoration of the visit of the magi that Epiphany represents.  They were the first givers of Christmas gifts.  Since Jesus was Jewish the idea of a manifestation, or epiphany, to the gentiles became an important marker.  Magi are styled as Zoroastrians from Persia.  The story occurs only in the gospel of Matthew and clearly wasn’t intended to coincide with the arrival of shepherds and angels.  As the Epiphany story grew to include Christmas it also encompassed many of the shadowy events of Jesus’ early years.  His questioning of the teachers in the temple was a kind of epiphany, as was his baptism.  All these things came together during a fallow time and were sufficient reason to take it easy for twelve days between the end of December and the beginning of January.

Some of our employers have expressed surprise that things continue to run fairly smoothly with workers reporting remotely.  These same people also seem surprised that people come back from several days off refreshed.  I suspect that they are also astonished at how well their computers work after being rebooted.  Time off is sacred time.  Whether we dress it up with elaborate stories of kings, wise men, sages, or magicians traveling great distances to see a baby in a foreign nation or whether we make it the day when one cousin baptized another, Epiphany grew into a major feast in medieval times.  Today it’s just another work day.  And with it the end of another holiday season will need to last us until near the end of yet another year.


Non-sacred Time

It’s difficult to say goodbye to the holiday season (although, according to its origins it’s not over yet!).  While the church still recognizes a couple more days until Epiphany—which until recent times was more important than Christmas—the secular “work world” is back to usual after New Year’s Day.  2021 started with a bonus, giving us a long weekend as well.  In any case, getting back to normal time is always a difficult transition.  For those of us who spent many years in academia, the holidays began about mid-December, and in my case, stretched fairly well into January.  Now, using a combination of vacation days and floating holidays, I’m able to set up a mini semester break of a couple of weeks.  Although I have trouble sleeping in, I was still able to spend the days with family and not worrying about business.

There is a difference in the quality of time off.  Some, I suspect, are eager to get back to work.  For me this first Monday back is difficult to face.  Some would argue that the difference in time quality is merely a subjective projection.  There is nothing scientifically changed from the last two weeks to the reality of the first Monday back.  This is one of those places where religion steps in as the more understanding boss (such instances are rare, so appreciate them while you can!).  Sacred time is taken very seriously by any number of religious traditions.  Even our beloved weekends have a basis in religious observance.  Holidays, even in a secular setting, are opportunities to recharge.  For me the spring semester was something I never dreaded.  We’ve allowed capitalism to take precedence over sacred time.

The problem with ordinary time is its mundanity.  Looking back, I’d been anticipating the holiday season with its time off for well over a month.  A full twelfth of the year.  To help with the transition, with my family I spent some weekend time cobbling together a personalized Modern Mrs. Darcy reading challenge.  Knowing I have good books in the future helps immensely, although I have much less time to read when work takes up much of my waking time.  Even that new start can’t be scientifically measured.  It’s something unique to human minds.  January begins with endings.  No matter how difficult 2020 may have been, at least it ended with a relaxing couple of weeks with family and no pressures to sit in front of a computer screen for over nine hours a day.  There will be more holidays ahead, and each one of them will be sacred time.


Good Will

Social media can seem overwhelming.  There are so many sites and there’s so much to keep track of.  And that’s in addition to all these “super storms” we have dumping inordinate amounts of snow and rain on a house neglected by previous owners.  Given the circumstance, I joined Next Door.  I don’t have time to follow it, but each day I get notices of new posts.  On Christmas morning one from the previous day caught my eye.  A local mother could neither afford to decorate her tree nor buy her teenage sons presents.  She turned to Next Door and the comments and offers of help posted shortly thereafter revived my faith in the inherent goodness of people.  Holidays bring out the best in us, I believe.  We want others to be cared for.  It’s just too bad we have trouble enacting it in any political setting.

Next Door is about grassroots connections.  We are fairly new to our town.  Although it’s distinctly purple, the people are friendly to one another.  It saddens me that we’ve allowed the politics of hate to define us for four years.  Those unable to see through Trump’s self-serving tenure think it’s been business as usual as one man has torn the country apart to make himself feel good.  Out here among hoi polloi, people are reaching out to strangers, offering Christmas ornaments, gifts, and food.  I think that must be rain on my face.  Why else would my cheeks be damp?  Left to their own devices most people would behave well toward others.  Fear makes us act in destructive ways.  What if we all reached out helping hands when anyone was in need, and accepted handouts without shame when we needed them?

Christmas was rainy around here.  Just a week after receiving an early snow dump of over a foot, the rain gauge is overflowing.  Caring for our environment, it seems, would be the most obvious way of ensuring the greatest good for the greatest number.  I know that sounds utilitarian, but it certainly feels more moral than personal enrichment at the expense of others.  Too much water here while the west suffers drought and wildfires.  We know our actions contribute to the instability in our atmosphere.  No actual scientist denies it.  As these twelve days of Christmas play out, I see no sign of compassion from the swamp, yet there is a light shining through the gloom.  It’s a sign of human kindness.  And it is as close as next door.


Thoughts of Christmas

Christmas, in merry old England, used to be the day when bills were due.  There are vestiges of that still.  Just this past week, when my mind was on upcoming celebrations and family time, companies continue to email me their bills, reminding me that all celebrations are but temporary.  Money’s the real thing, and it takes no holidays.  While the holiday season may be subdued for some due to lack of travel, for me any day that I don’t need to leave the house is a good one.  We had a pretty nasty patch of weather on Christmas Eve, and one might be tempted to say that the atmospheric conditions outside are frightful.  There’s a coziness about staying indoors around the holidays.  Besides, there’s a pandemic out there too.

We’ve got a quiet day planned at home with our usual traditions.  We added a Yule log to our celebrations this year—much of what we now recognize as Christmas derived from the teutonic Yule.  Otherwise, we are quiet people with rather simple tastes.  Even if we can’t afford much, the holidays mean time off work.  Time for those close to us without constantly having to auto-correct back to earning money at work.  I frequently reflect on how distorted capitalism has made us.  Our European colleagues have far more time off work than Americans do.  They don’t seem to suffer for it.  There’s not much light outside anyway, so why not hunker down a while?  Reflect on what’s really important?

First thing this morning, after watering the tree, I fired up the computer to write a few words before the festivities began.  The first two emails in my inbox were, as if on cue, bills.  Computers have no idea this is a holiday, and our neighbor’s early morning car announcing its lock secured tells me that he’s just getting home from work.  The fiction that we all have today off, as time home with family, plays out every year.  Holidays are often the privilege of the affluent, which is why, I suppose, Saturnalia was marked by a reversal of roles for several days.  Rome wasn’t exactly a friendly empire, but it wasn’t a capitalist one either.  This Christmas I’m hoping that those who have to work today—healthcare workers, those who keep stores open for last-minute supplies, emergency workers of all kinds—will have adequate time for peace coming to them.  Even non-essential work can be wearying.  Let’s celebrate, thankful that we’ve survived these last few years at all.  The bills will wait until tomorrow.


Winter Rebirth

It seems like 2020 has already had many longest nights.  The Trump administration has hurt so many people so badly (many of them his own supporters) that this feels like four years of night finally beginning to experience dawn.  It is finally the solstice!  This ancient seasonal holiday, coopted by Christianity for its own purposes, retains great symbolic value.  The story of Jesus’ birth is about light coming into the world.  So are the myths behind Saturnalia and Yule and even Hanukkah.  We tend to want to view things literally when the true meaning comes in the form of symbols that strike at the very heart of what it means to be human.  We fear the dark, and we’ve been living in it for so long now that perhaps the light hurts our eyes.

A friend pointed out the Winter Solstice Fest, put on by Shift.  It streamed (I almost wrote “aired”) over the past weekend.  Involving many indigenous, and even some new age practitioners, it was a celebration of light’s return.  Although I couldn’t watch all of it—weekends are so necessary when work becomes the only reality of five days per week—but what I did see inspired me.  The chauvinism of one religion asserting its superiority over other explorations of spirituality can contribute to the darkness.  When we take symbols literally we’re capable of great damage.  Being inclusive forces us to recognize that we are all seeking light while learning to walk in the dark.

One of the reasons I watch horror is because, on the balance, it is dark half the time.  Perhaps because I can’t seem to sleep until sunrise any more, I spend quite a lot of even summertime in the dark.  Since there’s much that can only be done in the light of day, I explore how darkness might contribute to our spiritual growth.  Although horror often receives a naughty reputation, it too is about exploring the dark for meaning.  Today, at this latitude, we’ll have only nine hours and sixteen minutes of light.  It’s easy to believe illumination might never return.  Humans have created rituals to assure ourselves, to encourage the courses of nature to continue as they have for countless eons before we ever evolved.  While we’re in the darkness, perhaps we should consider making friends with it.  It’s quiet.  And shy.  And if we don’t learn to live with it, half of our time may never blossom.