Every winter, I inevitably get embroiled in arguments with certain people over which holiday is the "proper" one to celebrate this time of year.
I celebrate them all if the occasion arises; meanwhile I hear from certain particularly insecure folks about how others are "stealing" their holiday by having a similarly timed festival of love, warmth, and rebirth. Pointing out that they "stole" this date themselves from several holidays that were popular 2000 years ago does little good.
The question remains: why does everybody celebrate at the end of December? Kwanzaa and Human Light Day aren't the first newcomers to this time of years; nor was Christmas. Christmas itself likely benefitted in the popular imagination of the ancient world by sharing dates almost precisely with the Zoroastrians' Fire Festival, the Roman pagans' Saturnalia, the various northern European Winter Solstice festivals, and the Norse Yule.
All of this because, for those of us in the northern hemisphere, December 21st is the longest night of the year. It is the pinnacle of cold and darkness, the night longest removed from balmy air and green plants and food growing out of the Earth. It is the turning point of the natural cycle of life and death, after which the land will surely again bring forth wild and cultivated foodstuffs alike.
And so everybody in the northern hemisphere celebrates; celebrates that the darkness is at an end, that the light shall soon return. Celebrates, in the meantime, the warmth and light and life that we humans are able to give to a desolate natural world: fire, and the unique human consciousness that our mastery of fire represents.
A little over a year ago today I read "The Queen of Air and Darkness" by Poul Anderson for the first time. It is a truly wonderful story. It addresses, in Anderson's own words, how "man is eternally a creature of mind and machine; and also of the spirit within."
In the story, a strange new spirituality threatens to derail the human colonization of an icy world. Amidst natural beauty at once alien and achingly familiar, once-rational scientists and frontiersman are seized by irrational beliefs, by devotion to a Moon Mother, a goddess of the artic land they now inhabit, by belief in the preturnatural paradise she speaks of, beckoning to all that is animal and spirit in the men who cannot be (could not survive as) mere machines.
It is a mark of Anderson's vision that the reader herself (at least in my case) finds the Moon Mother's vision preferable to reality, finds it very nearly irresistibly appealing. Appealing enough, perhaps, to abandon technology and manifest destiny in pursuit of what she offers.
Fitting that I read this story in December, when fresh-fallen snow sparkles in the longest night, under the northern hemisphere's brightest moon of the year. Fitting that I revisit it again, a year later, when some things I learned from my own experience with the Moon Mother have begun to come to fruition.
This year I celebrated with a friend. We drank jasmine tea and I contemplated all the Moon-related happenings of the past year. I only have the jasmine because I was introduced to it at a Ritual to Honor the Lunar Sphere, conducted by some strangers who quite thoroughly understand that men are not mere machines, but eternally creatures of the spirit within.
A wish I made on that night has come to fruition. More wishes, more ambitions, appear set to move ahead if I conduct myself properly.
The tarot cards I drew this morning amuse me even more now; I got The Chariot, The Moon, and Temperance.
If there is somebody up there, He/She/It must communicate in awfully strange ways, to have so many somebodies absolutely convinced they are His/Her/Its followers all squabbling over what to celebrate in late December.
And all convinced they're hearing the word of something higher. I'm going to have to think about that some more.