So here we are, once again well into that Greatest ‘Pre-Season’ of Them All.
You know the one – it shows up earlier each year and is unavoidable in shopping malls and retail outlets everywhere. Even at home, we’re assaulted whenever we turn on the television. There’s no escaping it – Christmas is Coming … let the shopping begin!
I saw my first Christmas tree in September. By our Canadian Thanksgiving in the second week of October, more signs had surfaced. By Halloween Week, with both Halloween and Christmas stuff to choose from everywhere, I could be pagan or Christian … or better, from a commercial perspective – I could be both!
Sometime in the last ten years, the advent of the season I used to love slowly shifted to a time of resentment and malaise that hit earlier, and harder, with each successive year. The relentlessly expanding commercial crush of Christmas had me working harder and harder to play Santa while feeling increasingly more like Scrooge.
As my distaste for the season grew, my reaction during the Christmas advent was, at first, a renewed focus on the ‘Reason for the Season’ as it’s often so annoyingly labelled. But a funny thing happened – delving more into the origins of Christmas, its Christian aspects gradually ceased to hold significance for me. I was drawn instead toward its natural, pre-Christian roots …
The shortest day of the year, which marks the return of the sun, has been celebrated through the ages by a wide variety of cultures all around the globe. Both ancient Europeans and Native Americans had winter solstice rites. So did Iran, Pakistan, Tibet and China, to name just a few. Many of these celebrations continue today.
Winter Solstice can be celebrated by anyone, regardless of religion (or lack thereof). Modern celebrations might well include familiar elements of an old-fashioned Christmas – the tree, holly and ivy, the red-and-green, a Yule log – because many of these things originated from pre-Christian celebrations. But they can be completely different too, open to individual interpretation and practice. If religious, include that element. If not, leave it out. Simple!
The only thing missing from a Winter Solstice celebration is the irksome and unrelenting commercial aspect that few would miss and whose absence most would welcome.
One of the more notable solstice celebrations is the crowds that gather each year at the Celtic site of Newgrange in Ireland to observe the sunrise between the 19th and the 23rd of December. At dawn, a shaft of sunlight shines through the roof box over the entrance, penetrates the passage and lights up the chamber, an event that lasts 17 minutes.
Festivals on the eve or night of the Winter Solstice are taking hold in many cities and they’re growing each year. Here in Canada, there are large outdoor street celebrations in Vancouver and Toronto (Kensington Market).
And when it’s Winter Solstice in one hemisphere, it’s Summer Solstice in the other – a whole other reason to celebrate!
Whether celebrated as well as, or instead of, Christmas, what a perfect opportunity for the world to put aside divisive beliefs and come together to celebrate as one.
As someone very famous once sang, Imagine!
Though you’d be hard-pressed to tell from looking at my holiday decorations, I no longer celebrate Christmas – it’s Winter Solstice for me. I haven’t yet moved completely past the commercial obligations of the season due to the expectations that our society has firmly embedded in my children (for whom it’s still Christmas) but I’m making progress. I feel much more at peace with the season since I’ve shifted to celebrating the return of the light.
And, echoing that famous song once more, I hope someday you’ll join me …