Solstice: The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Newgrange Ireland at the Winter Solstice, newgrange.com

The sun never says to the earth, “You owe me.”
Look what happens with a love like that.
It lights up the whole sky.

Poem: “The Gift” @1350, by Hafez, tr. D. Ladinsky

‘Tis the season, quite literally. We are approaching the turning point of the season, the lever of our mini-universe, wherein the sun will be at its Most. Here in Northern California, it will be at the lowest point to our horizon and the furthest south, which means we’re at the Solstice, baby!

Even though other latitudes and longitudes will feel that dance of the sun differently, everywhere is going to feel the sun at its Most. Those at this latitude, the 90% of humans who live on the majority of the land masses on this side of the equator, will feel this as the shortest day of the year. Tomorrow holds promise because it will be longer (for 90% of us anyway). Folks on the south side of the equator will enjoy the longest day of the year, although they might revel in our revelry, too.

People long ago lived under a differently aged sun, but they also did this dance, and they also experienced the sense of cold/hot, shorter/longer, death/rebirth, and dark/light that we are experiencing. ‘Tis the season to get me thinking all about ancient celebrations of solstice. Fair warning: this is not just a laundry list of the top 12 pagan chants or a random set of ten holiday traditions… I’ve done some of that in previous blogs, and you can google plenty of other examples. This is not just about how Queen Victoria popularized Christmas trees or Good King Wenceslas or Saturnalia or even Stonehenge–let’s go a little broader and deeper than Northern Europe. How old and how omnipresent are celebrations of the solstice? How do we know?

Stone circles in South Africa, photo from Stonecircletours.co.za.
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December Histories: The Wild Hunt on Christmas Eve

Peter Nicolai Arbo’s Asgardreien (The Wild Hunt of Odin), 1872, wikipedia.

Dear Reader: this is one of my favorite holiday posts, so I couldn’t resist a repeat for 2022.

Pretend this is the Jeopardy category: Common Bonds. The Wild Hunt, mind control, and the 1871 Polaris disaster. What do they all have in common? Got it? Add in fan fiction, Zwarte Piet, shoemakers, Martin Luther, reliquary theft…. Yes? Norse mythology? Saving girls from prostitution? Louisa May Alcott, Thomas Nast? How about Shadrack, the Black Reindeer?

It will soon be Christmas Eve, after all.

The mythology–the extensive fan fiction, which is what mythology is, isn’t it?–around the legends of Santa Claus and Christmas have roots that go waa-a-a-y beyond the Coca Cola commercial. Although I dug deep into a comparison of Santa and Jesus back in 2021, there are Santa rabbit holes to be discovered. Even if we just talk about Santa and his helpers, there’s plenty that even that Greek scholar and seminarian Clement Moore didn’t envision.

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I Wrote It Already (Turkey Day Version)

Smells good Piggy! It does, doesn’t it… Muppet parody on Norman Rockwell from tumblr.

I was going to write a Thanksgiving-themed post about potatoes, but I realized I had already done that. And yams, too. Yes, they’re different from sweet potatoes. See post.

Cranberries? Check. Turkey? Check check.

In fact, if you want to know a little history about most of the standard American traditional fare served the last Thursday of November, I can probably help you out. Or already did.

How about The Mother of Thanksgiving, Sara Josepha Hale, who helped start the formal holiday? Check. (p.s. those are links to my previous posts, should you want to learn about the history of said items and the somber lady who petitioned Lincoln for an official Thanksgiving holiday)

Gravy? You betcha! (Hint: every culture has it, but they call it something else.)

How about pumpkin pie? well, I did write all about pumpkins although it was more Halloween-y…

Stuffing? Oh heck yes!

I will admit, I haven’t written anything about green beans, corn casserole, or any of those regional/ethnic variations, like macaroni and cheese, lasagna, tamales, or whatever your family does. Maybe next year.

Most importantly, I’ve already created the flowchart. This year, as I went to reprint a new copy–ours is now covered with handwritten reminders and gravy stains–I found to my devastation that I only have a picture, and not the original document. I am in the midst of recreating it, but here is the old version. And the original explanatory post.

I have apparently reached a milestone of sorts. When it comes to Thanksgiving, I may have already written it.

Perhaps for Xmas I will need to research the historical derivation of deviled eggs.

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