Saturday, June 2, 2007

The Need for Christmas

One thing about being a Stranger in a Strange Land, you get an outsider's perspective on pretty much everything. Stuff you took for granted in your homeland and stuff the locals take for granted where you are.

So why a post about Christmas in June?

Here in the southern hemisphere, it's winter. The days are short, and the nights are long. The trees are bare, and icy winds come howling up off the polar ice caps with depressing regularity.

For the human psyche, this is a time of death.

In the northern hemisphere, our holidays ease the sting. Halloween (and then in the US, Thanksgiving) celebrate the harvest and turn nature's great dieback into a happy occasion. And right around the solstice, when the nights are longest and the sun may never come again, we light up that eternal night with Christmas.

Before there was a Christ there was a Roman Festival of Lights. Done with candles instead of lawn displays, but the idea was there. My father, a former Catholic priest and lifelong religious scholar, happily admits the theft. He contends that the date of Jesus' birth isn't the important thing, it's the death.

(OF course, when the subject of pagan roots of the festival of Oestre comes up, the discussion gets a bit more heated, but that's another story...)

Before the Festival of Lights even, there were blood sacrifices to ensure the return of the sun. Of course, the 'sacrifices' were (and sometimes still are) livestock too sickly to last out the winter. That way, folks got a good feed to help *them* last out the winter, and the surviving animals had more feed to keep them healthier so that *they'd* last out the winter too. Common sense and religion sometimes do run together.

Until our culture moved below the equator. Suddenly, these festivals, deeply important in our collective and individual psyches, were happening at the wrong times of year. Christmas becomes a midsummer beach party (Beltane, anyone?), which is great.

But summer doesn't need another excuse to party. And now winter has no relief, no promise of rebirth. I never realized the power of surrounding ourselves with twinkling lights and affirming our tribal bonds with gifts and communal food until it went away.

I don't get the Seasonal Affective Disorder, but I do feel the pull of those long nights. Since I got rid of my car, I bike everywhere, and even winter doesn't stop me from hitting the trails at Bottle Lake, or walking around Travis Wetland or Styx Mill Reserve. (Stalkers take note: an important clue to enacting your paranoid delusions!) I also ski and skate when I can, but dammit, I want my bloody festival, and I want it lit up!


Charles Gramlich said...

I was thinking about the alternate seasons when you were posting about your hike into the mountains. If you could somehow avoid the commercialism, it would be nice to bring a touch of Christmas to your current surroundings.

Interesting revelation about your father being an ex Catholic priest. At one time I thought I would be a priest, but that died away around puberty.

cs harris said...

I always hated Christmas in the summer. It was so hard to go to the beach and do all the busy beginning of summer things and still get ready for Christmas. Then, come winter, I too wanted something to brighten my days. But now we're here, and the other day I heard my Aussie-raised child singing a Christmas carol. As far as she's concerned, if it's the beginning of summer it must be Christmas time, right?

RK Sterling said...

Oh, I wish I had more time to comment on this!

I'll have to skip the religious/psychological discussion and just briefly mention that I hated Christmas in Arizona. Too sunny - felt unnatural.