Contrary to what the Evangelicals might want you to believe, the solstice really is “the reason for the season.”
It’s the longest night of the year. Our ancestors, whose most advanced technology was that newfangled “fire,” knew what today was. Their lives depended on it. Millennia of hard-won wisdom had taught them when to plant, when to harvest, when to hunt, when to store, all based on the cycles of the stars and the sun.
Orion’s bright these days (well, except for Betelgeuse, but that’s another story), the days are short, the nights are long, and those who didn’t understand the wheres and whys of it all had to have wondered every year if this year might be the year that the days just kept getting shorter and shorter until they disappeared altogether.
But it wasn’t. From here, over the next weeks and months, the days will get longer and warmer and the world will turn green again.
Either as an offering to the unseen, unknowable gods or as a celebration of having made it to the day alive, celebrations centered around the solstice go back to the dawn of time. Myriad tribes, nations, and religions have all appropriated the occasion time after time for their own celebrations (looking at you, Christianity!), mainly to avoid standing out like a sore thumb and getting killed for their beliefs.
Today it’s all about the commercialism and that portly dude with the white beard and red suit, our own appropriation of the time for our own true religion. Well, that and Hallmark Christmas movies. Which might be the next wave of appropriation.
It’s parties, year-end pressure, the pressure to find the perfect gifts, all topped off with maybe a touch of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
And lights. To fight the darkness, even when we lived in caves, we fought off the darkness with light. If the skies couldn’t provide it, we would make our own and light the path for the warmer days to find their way back to us. That tradition carries back right to the strings of lights covering our yard, house, and bushes. I’m not sure that our prehistoric ancestors would have understood the 20,000 tiny, colored LEDs, but they would have appreciated it.
Tomorrow the day will be a little bit longer.