Happy Solstice

I’m a few days late, but Happy Solstice to you. Now the days will at last be getting longer again. Or at least, that’s what will be happening in South Africa, where so much of the world’s attention has been focused for the Great Big Soccer Thing. Those poor soccer players have been laboring away in the depths of the antipodean winter. Perhaps that’s why the South American teams are playing so well… being from the same latitudes, they don’t suffer any seasonal-displacement jet lag.

Okay, I know that winter in South Africa isn’t so bad, and I know that most of the world’s best soccer players have their day jobs in Europe, no matter where they were born, but still, I’ve often wondered if north-to-south induced season lag is as disorienting as east-to-west time zone lag. I suppose not, but the one time I was south of the equator, I saw an advertisement in Sydney for a “Spring Halloween Party” that threw me for a figurative loop (and an anti-sense loop at that). I knew about the Australian phenomenon of Santa on the beach, but somehow I find Halloween and springtime mentally immiscible.

Back in the northern hemisphere, here’s an APOD link to Sunrise Solstice at Stonehenge. (Only recently I was reminded by Dan to be attentive to and thankful for the ever-enjoyable APOD.) And I will close with a nice email message that I got from the Revels, a Boston-based performance troupe. I knew about the sun standing still, but I wasn’t aware that bonfire comes from bonefire.

The word solstice comes from the Latin solstitium; literally “sun stands still.” For approximately six days in June and again in December, the sun appears to rise and set at approximately the same point on the horizon. To a civilization that believed the earth to be the center of the universe, the heavens appeared to literally stand still.

This pause in the natural order of things is a prerequisite to the whole idea of celebration. The heart of a birthday celebration is a familiar sequence of events: a call for quiet, a cake, candles are blown out, a song is sung. Whatever activity is going on in the room is interrupted, this draws attention to the moment and the entire group becomes a witness to something of importance. Interestingly this can happen in a large restaurant filled with strangers or in a foreign country in an unfamiliar language without losing anything in clarity of purpose. This heightening of awareness used to be very apparent in ancient celebrations of the solstice. Midsummer was an occasion for great merriment and license with the sun at the height of his power. Fiery wheels were rolled down hills representing the sun beginning its descent. “Bonefires” or a ritual burning of clean bones invoked the flames of renewal and summer poles were erected to symbolize the fruitful union of earth and sky.

In times past, a closeness to nature was both necessary and desirable in order to maintain crops sufficient to keep the family alive; now we can theoretically buy anything, anytime and climate is a matter of raising or lowering a thermostat. Gradually however, the hidden costs and limitations of our relatively new found independence are creeping up on us and there are nagging reminders that we ignore the forces of nature at our peril. Paying attention would seem to be topical activity.

Light a candle, thank your lucky stars, and pay attention!

3 thoughts on “Happy Solstice”

  1. Celebrating Easter in Argentina as a fall holiday was my moment–somehow all the resurrection symbolism gets lost when it’s cold, rainy, and the days are getting shorter and shorter!

  2. I want to hear from the other point of view too. Think of the poor Aussies in America saying “It was weird… it was Halloween, you know? And instead of it being cheery and bright, the leaves were all brown and frosty. What the hell kind of a Halloween is that?”

  3. I remember seeing “Around the World with Dot” on the TV cables long ago and Dot, an Australian, was amazed to see that Santa has to brave snow and ice during parts of his annual trek, such that the whole movie became a discussion of axial tilt and the Milankovitch Theory.

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