As a year ends, we often look back on what we have experienced. That review may bring to mind what we have accomplished and good memories. It may include regrets, things undone, and things we wish we could forget.
In this month’s writing prompt at my Poets Online e-zine, I noted an old poem (1784), “New Year’s Verses” by Philip Freneau, in which he blesses the calendar maker who came up with the idea of a year.
Blest be the man who early prov’d
And first contriv’d to make it clear
That Time upon a dial mov’d,
And trac’d that circle call’d a year;
Do you bless or curse the coming of winter?
December is filled with holidays that mark the Winter Solstice and the end of the year. That solstice is the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and the shortest day of the year. But you only have to move south of the equator for it to be the start of spring. and winter won’t arrive there until June.
In my brief youthful surfer days, the film The Endless Summer was a cult classic documentary. In 1966, I had that day-glo poster on the wall at the foot of my bed and stared at it every day. The surfers in the film were in search of the “perfect wave” but what interested me more is that their travels showed that you could follow summer around the globe. It could always be summer if you moved from hemisphere to hemisphere.
That was a few years after I had figured out the chords to The Beatles’ “I’ll Follow the Sun” which in my mind was saying the same thing. I didn’t keep surfing and never really progressed very far on the guitar and never did get to follow the Sun. I suppose it became more of a metaphor than a reality. Follow your bliss. Head for the positive.
Though some of us in the North might be sad to see summer and autumn ending and winter starting since ancient times astronomical winter and the solstice was a joyous celebration. After the solstice, the days get longer building daylight hours until the vernal equinox and the start of spring.
Societies globally have held festivals and ceremonies marking winter solstice which was seen as the day of the Sun’s rebirth. Symbolically, fire or light is often a component. Other symbols include things representing life and death, the rising Sun, and the Moon.
A good example is Yule which was a celebration of the ancient Norsemen of Scandinavia and it ran from the solstice through January. You might know about Large Yule logs which were set on fire at one end. More modern and tamer versions have taper candles inserted into a smaller log and decorated with evergreen clippings, holly, mistletoe, or ivy.
Bonfires also figure into many ceremonies in order to encourage the sun’s return. There is a large fire traditionally burning on Mount Fuji each year.
Hanukkah is another happy celebration that features light via the fire of candles or oil lamps.
In the Hopi tradition of Soyal, the Sun Chief takes on the role of announcing the setting of the sun, after which an all-night ceremony begins with the kindling of fires and dancing.
The Winter Solstice arrives on the 21st mid-afternoon here in Paradelle. If that isn’t appealing, head south and enjoy summer’s arrival.
The winter solstice (also called the hiemal solstice or hibernal solstice) occurs when either of Earth’s poles reaches its maximum tilt away from the Sun. This happens twice yearly, once in each hemisphere. For that hemisphere, the winter solstice is the day with the shortest period of daylight and longest night of the year, when the Sun is at its lowest daily maximum elevation in the sky. If you are at the North Pole on the 21st, you’ll experience continuous darkness or twilight.
I don’t love winter, but I have lived with it all my life. The four seasons are strong reminders of cycles – birth, maturity, aging, death, rebirth. There is something about losing summer that makes its return all the more miraculous to me.