By Bob Groeneveld
I am approaching my 66th Christmas.
I don’t remember every one of the 65 Christmases that preceded this one.
I was too young for the first couple to have established any reliable recollections.
And then there were the university years…
But one thing that I can be certain of about each and every Christmas in my past life is that they were all dark.
I don’t mean emotionally dark, or film noir dark, or anything like that.
I just mean dark.
Christmas happens to be one of the five or six darkest days of the year.
This year, the Winter Solstice occurs at precisely 8:19 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 21. The official sunrise here will clock in at 8:05 in the morning, and the sun officially sets at 4:16 in the afternoon.
That’s eight hours and 11 minutes of official sun – only a tad longer than one third of a day that’s about 24 hours long (give or take a few bits of a second).
By Christmas, our daily allotment of sun-up will have increased to a whopping eight hours and 12 minutes – a whole minute more – with sunrise at 8:06 and sunset at 4:18.
By any reckoning, that’s a dark day.
Granted, if it happens to snow, the light hangs around little longer, despite the sun’s reticence.
But on the other hand, when it rains – and folks, I don’t need to tell you which is more common around these parts – the clouds veritably smother the sun, and the day barely seems to happen at all.
Ironically, it was the dark, dinginess of the season that provided the initial sparks that eventually burst into the joy of Christmas… and practically every mid-winter religious celebration celebrated by practically every religion that ever was.
That’s because celebration of the solstice predated anything that we could see as a religion today by thousands – maybe tens of thousands – of years.
Perhaps the one thing that sets us humans apart from practically every other animal on the planet is our amazing ability to recognize patterns… what we call “intelligence.”
And the recognition of the cycle of the seasons may have been the very basis of what we now call “civilization.”
Without knowing the why of the cycles as we do now – planet on a tilted axis spinning around the sun, etc. – the fact that the shortening of days would eventually reverse into lengthening so that crops could be planted again would certainly have been cause for celebration of hope… which is practically the definition of joy.
It and a few other landmark points in the seasonal cycle became natural rest stops in the annual religious cycle, and were absorbed into each new religion – often with a few identifying embellishments – as they eclipsed each other.
That’s why it’s okay to say Merry Christmas, or Happy Holidays, or Joyous Festivus, or whatever.
Because no matter what religious or non-religious experience motivates you, now is the time to recognize that the days ahead will be brighter.