Christmas: the light and the dark

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Simon Schama, the British historian, wrote a nice piece in last weekend’s Financial Times about Christmas and Hanukkah.  Some years back, he took heat for daring to comment that the emphasis on lights in Christmas (all those twinkly bulbs on the tree!) and Hanukkah (all those candles!) was just a holdover from the very traditional celebration of light at the Solstice. 

 

 

Hm.  Is there really any doubt about this?

 

 

Anyway: he repeated a very nice Mishnah story I’d never heard.   In it, Adam was very grieved by the onset of the first winter, realizing that he’d caused it himself, and fasted for eight days, right before the Solstice.  When he realized that the days were getting longer again, he rejoiced for eight days.

 

 

Partner asked me about the timings of sunset and sunrise around the Solstice the other day, so I resorted to Wikipedia.  Do you know how many cultures observe the Solstice?  Pretty much all of them.  And it’s always about light, one way or another

 

 

Okay. Now let’s talk about Christmas tragedies.

 

 

This year alone:

 

 

        A house burned down in Stamford, Connecticut, killing five people.

        A man – dressed as Santa, yet – came into an Grapevine, Texas house and shot six family members, and then shot himself.

 

 

Remember the Banda Aceh tidal wave in 2004?

 

 

Remember the 2003 earthquake in Iran?

 

 

Well – what of it?  Bad things happen all the time.  There’s no reason that they shouldn’t happen now.

 

 

Except that they seem especially painful now, this time of year.

 

 

It’s the darkest time of year.  The darkness is winning, and we desperately want to see the light triumphant. When we see bad things happen, it’s as if we can actually feel the struggle between light and darkness.  And we do not want the darkness to win.

 

 

The only exceptional event that I’ve listed above is the man in the Santa suit who killed his family members on Xmas.  It makes you think about the expectations of families on Christmas – the desperate effort to believe that everything will be all right – and that these unrealistic expectations might be enough for make someone snap and kill his family.

 

 

That’s a special kind of madness, especially horrible.  I tried to think about what it would be like to see a family member in a Santa suit come into the room toting a shotgun, and –

 

 

Enough.

 

 

Let the darkness go.  The days are getting longer again.

 

 

As I’ve said once before in this space: hail the Unconquered Sun!

 


 

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