Christmas: the light and the dark


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 –






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



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



For the winter solstice: Lincoln Chafee’s holiday tree, and why I am no longer a practicing Catholic


Do we need a special acknowledgement of the solstice?  I suppose so. There was an irruption of the whole stupid “War on Christmas” thing here in Rhode Island this year: the governor, an innocent (and rather dense) Independent named Lincoln Chafee (who’s a very nice guy, and for whom I voted), called the state tree a “holiday tree.”



(Now, to be fair, this was thick-headed of him.  As my wise co-worker Eileen pointed out today: the city of Providence puts up a big menorah right alongside their Christmas tree, and they don’t call it a “holiday candle holder.”)



The Providence Catholic Diocese came down on Chafee like a ton of bricks.  How dare he demean Christians in such a way!  Wasn’t he aware that the Christmas tree was a symbol of the birth of Christ?



(Frankly, I wasn’t aware of that myself.)



The local Catholic parish priests who have been talking to Fox News, and the local idiot bishop, Thomas Tobin, have been mixing up the whole “Christmas” thing with custom, and belief, and observance, and lots of silliness.  And naturally Fox has been lapping it up.  Apparently having a tree called a “Christmas tree” is vital to the life and health of the Christian /Catholic community, and calling the state tree a “holiday tree” is a slap to all right-thinking and right-believing Christians.



(I did note that the head of one of the local ecumenical councils asked, futilely, that the whole dispute be forgotten.   Did we, he asked plaintively, think that Jesus would care about this?)



(Evidently the Catholics – or their squad leaders – think so.)



Mind you, I used to be a practicing Catholic, up until a couple of years ago.  I struggled mightily to fit their theology into my life.  Around 2006, a year or so after the reactionary new German pope took over the reins of the church, I just gave up.  To my surprise, several people I know did the same thing. 



We all reached the same conclusion at the same time: the Church was not for us, not anymore.



This serves as an excellent explanation for Why I Am No Longer A Practicing Catholic.



Bring on the solstice observances!  Hail the Unconquered Sun!



And to hell with both Thomas Tobin and Lincoln Chaffee!


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