2 - Christmas and the Winter Solstice
Family reunions are not easy when we are dispersed over such long distances. Sometimes we cannot get together at the traditional occasions, as this year unfortunately, happened for Christmas. With all the development and ease of transportation of our age, it is due to the unchangeable part of human nature that we cannot always be masters of our time. The individual constraints and professional commitments can intrude today, like they always did, in personal choices.
When I had your age, travel required considerable preparation, time and expense. However, we still managed to go back as often as possible to our roots, the place to which the oldest living generation had always returned to reside. At the center of things there were my grand parents, then bound to carry the hereditary responsibility for caring and providing the venue for family reunions. Air travel was still scarce and ocean liners could take weeks to reach destination, but that was the price to pay to have several generations meet, exchange their memories, experiences and views of the world, thus strengthening the extended family ties.
To your grandmother and I, it has now fallen that responsibility. It is with sadness that we spend this period without our children and grandchild, after all those years where we got used to being together. After reaching a certain age, when we look into the future we wonder how many more opportunities will be there to get together, but we know they will be fewer and fewer, thus the sadness.
On the other hand, all this is also normal. As the years go by, in time the children create their own little families and other obligations. As generations follow each other and such patterns are repeated, the important is for each one to find equilibrium, peace and happiness in life.
Since we could not get together, let me tell you in writing instead of in person, about how Christmas was made to coincide with the traditional celebrations of the winter solstice.
The natural rhythms are the only things certain and of which we are aware: the succession of days, the lunar months, the seasons of the year, life and death. At the winter solstice we celebrate the shortest day of the annual cycle and by consequence the longest night. It's the end of the agony of autumn, when the temperature drops, the flora falls asleep and the fauna enters the slow pace of survival in times of scarcity.
The solstices and equinoxes are significant milestones since mankind became conscious of the seasons’ regular return. As they change, so change the sources of food and all the other needs to adapt and survive. Since then, stones have been engraved, the interior of caves painted up, megaliths rose, pyramids, temples and space observatories have been erected. In common, they have the desire to understand what affects us and to conjure up the unknown.
The recognition of being dependent of nature’s rhythms is as inevitable as the appearance of all the myths and superstitions connected to these significant events. The need to think, to understand, also entails finding the limits of our rationality. It is in reaching these limits that are established the fundamental differences in the capabilities of each person to deal with the reality that is beyond our immediate understanding. Some people accept that nature’s unknown is conquered step after step; others indulge in fantasies of inevitable submission to supernatural entities.
Every civilization that overlaps the previous ones, adds its own layer of beliefs, traditions and legends. Christmas marks a special birth among those that frequently occur nine months after the celebrations of the spring equinox, when nature awakens, many animal species mate and a new annual cycle truly begins.
This special birth happened about two thousand years ago and had a negligible impact on his contemporaries. But after his execution, Jesus’ ideas had the best viral public relations that the world has ever known, for which were mainly responsible some of the Greeks absorbed by the Roman Empire, Greeks already known at the time as independent minded and obstinate radicals...
These myths, legends and their different versions, have accumulated civilization after civilization, colouring the immutable natural realities and thus providing the opportunities to produce both some of the best spiritual and artistic creations of humanity, and also the worst tragedies and aberrations.
For those who are lucky enough to live in peace and have at least the bare minimum of material possessions, the winter solstice is a time of hope. The families get together to strengthen the ties among its members, share common traditions and keep the memory of their roots. It does not matter if the decorated tree coexists with the nativity scene, Santa with the child Jesus, the pagan bonfire burns during the midnight mass and the nights are frigid.
This year, the days still bring a blue sky, the sun is warm and we are alive. Next year, despite the world’s many difficulties, the spring season is definitely coming again.