Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Winter Solstice


At 4:47 p.m EST today, what we call the winter solstice, the official beginning of winter as an astronomical season will occur. Astronomically speaking, the North Pole will reach its maximum tilt of 23+ degrees away from the sun. Experientially, the sun today will travel its shortest path through the northern hemisphere's sky. Hence today (in the northern hemisphere) will experience its shortest day and longest night.

Since prehistory, the winter solstice (experientially sometimes seen as "Midwinter") has been a major marker of the year in many cultures, characterized by winter light festivals - most famously by Christmas, which is symbolically connected with the dynamic of the decline of the light and its annual increase (as in, for example, the ancient Roman Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, celebrated on December 25). At a time when people were economically dependent on the natural cycle of seasons, this was also when animals would be slaughtered, since there would not be sufficient food to feed them during the forthcoming worst of winter. Hence, the availability of meat for feasting at this time of year, which gave this supposedly bleak season its especially festive character.

Whatever bleakness this season still has in contemporary society is largely psychological. Ever since the invention of electric lighting, the symbolic struggle between light and darkness has given way to massive humanly induced light pollution, such that in our increasingly urbanized world fewer people can actually see stars in the night sky anymore. An urbanized culture, increasingly cut off from nature (and increasingly acting against nature through the crime of humanly created climate change), has little or no appreciation of winter's importance in the annual cycle of human experience and so suffers from this special season instead of appreciating it. Modern society, centered on power, domination, and control, cannot appreciate winter's contemplative silence and so recoils from the beauty of this season and in the process diminishes its ability to appreciate the spiritual story the winter holiday highlights. For what is the Incarnation of the Divine Word but a silent alternative to our cult of power, domination, and control?


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