Another mythologizing animal sharing a spark of intellectual passion!
Winter Solstice occurs when the earth's axial tilt is farthest away from the sun. It is often also referred to as Midwinter, since that is the shortest day and longest night of the year. From this point on until Summer's Solstice, the nights will be getting shorter, and the days will be getting longer. Traditionally this part of the season is recognized in many cultures as a time of rebirth.
Originally the custom of the Christmas tree came from the Germanic peoples, who celebrated what they called Jul, or Yule, at this time. From them we receive the customs of the Yule log, Yule boar, Yule singing, and so on. Curiously, some historians claim the celebration was originally connected to Wotan and the Wild Hunt.
This time of year is usually celebrated by attending festivals with feasting, singing, and dancing; and by spending time with your loved ones by the fire. We've all heard the wonderful old poem, after all, haven't we? "'Twas the Night before Christmas, and all through the house not a creature was stirring…" Or at least that's how it's supposed to go…
Gift giving during this season is a lovely way to show your affection for those you care for. Sinterklaas was the inspiration for St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children. Today in the US we know St. Nick, of course, as Santa Claus, who brings gifts for all the good children. What could be nicer?
Originally this feast day was both an opportunity to help the poor by putting some money into their shoes, and a chance for a really big feast similar to Carnival. This evolved into something much tamer, with the children putting their shoes out to receive presents, and leaving a bit of hay and a carrot for Sinterklaas's horse. I remember doing that in Spain as a child, in fact, in the hopes that the Three Kings would leave presents on their seasonal mythic visit to visit the newborn Jesus. Of course, we all knew the Three Kings rode camels, not horses! Nowadays in the US, children hang their stockings by the fireplace, "in the hopes that St. Nicholas soon will be there!"
Unfortunately commercialism has managed to make what was an expression of generosity and sharing… into practically a demand for reciprocity! I've occasionally seen such angst over whether or not the gift was expensive enough, or big enough, or whatever. Surely we can all see that's not the true meaning of the season? No one enjoys feeling obligated, after all.
There's also the issue of real-world concerns. Just because we ourselves are blessed and joyous does not mean everyone else is as well. I believe it's always good at this time of year to show some generosity to those less fortunate. Donate something to a good charity, and give others hope as well! Internationally, I'm quite impressed with the wonderful work done by Heifer International and Kiva: Loans that change lives. If you'd rather spend your dollars closer to home, there's always your local Habitat for Humanity. Also, can I recommend we not forget the animals? Help out your local Humane Society if you can — they'll much appreciate it! Giving hope during this season helps prevent acts of desperation, after all.
All too often, however, we try to be all things to all people in this season. Decorating the house and the tree, the gift-selecting and -wrapping, sending out the cards, the shopping, the insane traffic, cooking for the feasts, the constant carols blaring at you in the malls — along with keeping up with work or school or the kids or whatever… you really have to learn how to pace yourself during this season. There's a lot of pressure to perform, and if you don't live up to the expectations of those around you, it can be enough to drive you to drink.
Frankly, it's just not possible. Trying to out-perform everyone, and taking no time for yourself, just means you're more likely to not enjoy the season at all. What's the point of driving yourself crazy like that? Push yourself hard enough, and you might even crack under the pressure — that'd be no fun!
So during this beautiful Solstice season, don't let the pressures of conformity during the holidays get to you. This isn't about perfect houses or the most expensive present! It's about love and sharing. Remember you too deserve a moment to enjoy yourself! You don't have to be perfect — you just have to be gloriously you. When you're feeling overwhelmed, take a moment and just do something nice for you. You'll feel better, and so will everyone around you.
(with special thanks to the hilarious icanhazcheezburger.com!)
Bestiaries depict mythical, moralizing animals, but are also potential allegorical sparks that can bloom into brilliant mental bonfires. My bestiary is this mythologizing animal's fascinated exploration of beauty & meaning in the wonder of existence -- in the hopes of inspiring yet more joyous flares of intellectual passion.
Help yourself & me too!