Today is the Winter Solstice.
The Google Doodle today celebrates the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year.
I spent two years in Iowa. That is the coldest place that I’ve lived, and as much as I don’t like winter, it isn’t the cold that gets to me; it’s the dark. During the Iowa winters I got up in the dark, blew snow off the drive in the dark, drove to work in the dark. Worked in an office without windows, and drove home in the dark. I saw the sun on weekends…sort of. I remember winter days as gray.
I know a couple of Pagans. They follow the seasons in ways that the rest of us don’t. Winter solstice is a big day for them. Why would anyone celebrate the shortest day? Well, it’s because the sun is returning. Various groups of people built some sort of means of determining the solar calendar. The most famous of these calendars is probably Stonehenge. Stonehenge was built millennia ago by people who are thought not to be ancestors of the inhabitants of the current residents of Great Britain. It has been deduced that the circle of massive stones was a means to identify the solar seasons.
If you thought the Pagan rites and rituals were druid you were on the right track, but solstice meant something to a lot of northern cultures.
Tired of music festivals marked by Porta-Jons, falafel stands, unwashed bodies and unreliable drugs? Check out the Secret Solstice festival in Iceland.
At $1 million a ticket you won’t be bothered by any of that. (I assumed it was dollars. It could be euros if exchange rates are a concern for you.)
To get back to the question: why celebrate the shortest day of the year? Because the sun was returning. During most of our history, recorded and unrecorded, we had no idea that our world was a sphere that wobbled on its own axis, that we circled the sun, that the circle was really an ellipse, or that no amount of dancing in circles chanting “come back sun” was going to affect the Universe. We didn’t know that the galaxies danced to their own music. What we did know was that following winter’s solstice the days got longer through the vernal equinox until the next summer solstice when the circle turned and we began to have longer nights.
Astronomy has largely replaced astrology as a means of understanding our Universe, but there are holdouts. Some of the people who continue to believe in astrology do so as a sort of game while others follow it like a religion.
During Disco Days of the 1970s the most caricatured pick-up line was, “What’s your sign?” I have no idea what followed that. I usually asked them how they would refute Zeno’s Paradox. I should have studied astrology for all the good knowing of Zeno’s paradox did.
At this point I was tempted to embed the code for the Beatles' song, “Here Comes the Sun”, but then thought of Holst’s, “The Planets”. Holst was apparently moved by Astrology to write the tone poem in which each movement was inspired by some belief about the character of one of the planets in the solar system. Carl Sagan talked about our fascination with Mars and how it has inspired science fiction which in turn inspired funding space exploration.
Carl Sagan not only inspired an entire generation to become interested in The Cosmos, he has a unit of measure named for him; the Sagan. A Sagan is four billion which is the smallest number that can be ascribed to “billions and billions”.
Gustav Holst The Planets
For a period in the 1980s while our daughters were listening to Heart, the B-52s and other popular music groups, L and I bought classical music and had it playing in the house all of the time. The Planets was one of my favorite albums. At one point we dragged our younger daughter to the Symphony. I don’t remember who they were playing that night, but our daughter really did not want to go butwent because it was something like father daughter night.
The next morning she said, “I knew all of that. It wasn’t so weird.”
And, I still think that “Yule baby” Annie Lennox (born December 25, 1954) kicks ass.
This song wasn’t about dark, but about cold, ”the color of crystals”.
Like a lot of people in the 80s I listened with one ear to the music by groups like the Eurythmics. I knew nothing of Annie Lennox except her name and voice. Only later did I learn that she is a Scot, really smart, eloquent and very creative.