Alban Arthan: The Light of Winter

The forest is hushed, yet the green of the evergreens is not muted; brilliant red berries provide stunning contrast, and even in the deciduous forests one can see the swell of buds – just beginning, to be sure – that will bear stem and leaf in the spring. The slant of the sunlight is a different light than the bright focus of summer, showing nuance and perspective that might have been missed then. And over all the stars take on a crisp brilliance that is riveting even in the chill of winter’s night air.

On the eve of the shortest day and longest night of the year, the thought of the lengthening days to come is a celebration. Let us not forget the beautiful light of winter: let it live in our hearts just a small bit longer. For the stars of winter are featured in may a tale and legend, in songs and hymns and  poems, and in the oldest sacred stories of humankind.

Portent and mystery, glimpses of the divine majesty, beacons of light and hope, silver fire in the heavens…The light of winter shows us, maybe, that the unknowable magic of the heavens is a fine and blessed thing…It matter not, I think, my imaginary friend that we reflect on the stars in the night sky, or the stars that grace a Christmas tree, but that we simply see the light of winter. Let us follow yonder stars.

Winter Solstice

*first published December, 2011


I love this day, perhaps in part for the romance of unbroken centuries of denizens of the northern hemisphere celebrating the return of the light. True, it is not as exhilarating as watching the sun rise over jagged mountain peaks on Midsummer Day, yet the summer solstice is tinged with the faint regret of being at the apex from which the days will slowly but surely become shorter. But now, in mere moments, the days here will begin to lengthen, and the promise of everything to come is very sweet.

I have observed and marked the solstices as long as I can remember in some fashion or another, and I confess to surprise at people who pass them by, unremarked. For thousands of years they have been important celebrations in a myriad of cultures, and I suspect that something is lost to modern life when they are unnoticed. One need not be a follower of paganism, or druidism, or some colourful new age ritualism to appreciate the beauty and symmetry of the solstice.

It would be cliché to say that many modern peoples have lost touch with nature: indeed we are earnestly advised of the ‘nature deficit’ we suffer from. For myself, the hills and valleys, forests and rivers, oceans and expanses of sky form such an integral part of me, of who I am and how my very self has come to be…I observed my fellow citizens out and about today, a gorgeously sunny day, a peach of a day in the rain forest climate that I live in, and they were enjoying the parks and walkways and trails. So maybe, I would say, at least here in this place, we do not suffer from deficit of nature, but from a deficit of wonder…Maybe.

The wonder of axial tilt, that the earth’s magical, invisible axis tilts at an angle to the perpendicular that gives us the seasons of the northern and southern hemispheres, this mysterious, cyclical round of birth, growth, flowering, decaying, and dying…this seems to me to be a source of endless wonder.

That me! I! should be a part of this great cosmic order – perhaps you call it God? I do not think it matters, although in writing that I run the risk of offending some, I suppose. But if I have offended you, I hope you will take a deep breath, and join me in a hymn of praise to axial tilt. To the beauty and sheer magic of being alive on this earth, both its measured order and its chaotic uncertainties, for in this hymn of praise shall we discover what it means to be fully human.

To be fully present to the wonder is to live as humans were meant to live, I think. And by our presence, to turn the wheel one more time to the promise of all that lies ahead. Axial tilt is a wondrous thing.



Yule Tidings

Dear Santa,

I write on the very afternoon of the winter solstice: the earth now at the point where the northern hemisphere is at its furthest tilt from the sun. And so we celebrate the return of the light, for every day grows slightly longer now, even this day. Thus it has been for many thousands of years for us humans, a time for stories and feasting and the light and warmth of home and hearts made joyous by the love light shining.

I write a little early this year, for I know you are saddened by recent controversies in your name. There was a silly woman who insisted you are white, and an equally silly man who insisted that you don’t exist, and likely a few other gems I have overlooked. I don’t think you are white, for the books all say you are rosy. And of course, we know you exist, for we collectively imagine you into being every year, and millions of children await, and have awaited your generosity, and are better people for understanding generosity. We need you and your magic more than ever. Sigh. I think perhaps I have written those words before. Never mind, there are bound to be some repeats in all these years of letters to Santa.

Anyway, here is what I am asking for: a little more of ‘out of the ordinary’. There was a time before you, Santa, when it is said that Yule celebrations lasted for weeks and even months. Now it is mostly reduced to one day that is set aside from the ordinary. On that day we shine, oh, we shine – we love, and share, and feast, and tell stories, and mostly there are no hard words. But quickly the ordinary falls back into place, for these days the gods of commerce reign, and they are mostly angry white men who are pleased only when everybody is at work. We go back to work because we must – these are demanding gods – and somehow that shining spirit loses its lustre, and we forget how marvelous we can be. And we forget this is a season.

So please, a little more out of the ordinary, for the suffering folk that appease the gods. With, perhaps a merest sprinkling of tolerance, for is not the fact that we do not all celebrate in the same fashion delightful? Love and joy and sharing and feasting may be all we have in common, but are these not the most powerful commonalities? Truth be told, they are much more powerful than the angry gods of commerce, and for every day that we extend the season of joy, we diminish their rule.

I love you, Santa. I have tried to be kind and good, but the approval of the Enbridge pipeline may change that. Anyway, there are cookies for you here.

Blessings of the Solstice. Merry Christmas. God Jul. God Jol. Vrolijk Kerstfeest. Buon Natale. Maligayang Pasko. Joyeux Noël. Nadolig llawen. Boldog Karácsonyt.