By Tooker Gomberg, Montreal, Canada.
Winter Solstice on the Internet.
My last column caused a bit of a stir. Shortly after posting it I received an email accusing me of “hemisphereism”.
“You have made a faux pas by excluding half the planet with the opening lines referring to the winter solstice, and shortest days et al. Sorry to disappoint you, but it is already warm and sunny here in the land of OZ, and we will be celebrating the solstice with barbecues and seafood and salads and beer etc. with very long days!! Please cease this hemisphereism at once!” Thanks, Sharon Ede, secretary with Urban Ecology Australia, for setting me straight.
As if that wasn’t bad enough. These days I am helping to establish an urban ecology centre in downtown Montreal. I have been sending postings asking people to help with the renovation work that’s underway. This week I received the following email: “Hello, I am just writing to tell you that the painting etc. sounds very interesting but I’m not sure how I got onto your mailing list because I am currently living in Burkina Faso (West Africa) and wouldn’t possibly be able to make it..”
Email takes you places you’ve never been before. And the Internet is full of information, and occasionally insight. ‘Twas the night before solstice and I decided to go surfing. I typed in the word “solstice” and the search engine brought back these nuggets.
And as we stand on the edge of darkness
Let our chant fill the void
That others may know
In the land of the night
The ship of the sun
Is drawn by
The grateful dead.
— Tibetan “Book of the Dead,” ca. 4000 BC.
That comes from a homepage linked up with numerous other Grateful Dead pages. I always wondered where the band got it’s name.
Clicking over to some solstice history I come across Carol McCullough’s homepage describing numerous winter celebrations.
Winter solstice celebrations take place on the shortest day of the year (in the Northern Hemisphere!) During the first millennium the Druids rejoiced for the return of the Sun God, and the fact that the days were getting longer. The celebration is called Yule, and many cultures around the world celebrate the promise of the coming of spring.
The Yule celebration includes building a large bonfire, singing and dancing. The feasting and the noise is said to awaken the sun from its long winter sleep.
There are many other festivals in different cultures around this time of year. One of the stranger ones (to me)is the Butter Sculpture Festival during the Buddhist New Year.
Says Carol McCullough: “To celebrate the New Year in Tibet, Buddhist monks create elaborate yak-butter sculptures depicting a different story or fable each year. The sculptures reach 30 feet high and are lit with special butter lamps. Awards are given for the best butter sculptures.” I find it a little hard to visualize. But their minds might well be boggled to hear of all the trees that are cut down for Christmas trees in our part of the world.
J. Meyer’s homepage states: “I dare say the Druids would be appalled at chopping down a healthy tree… The Druids were all but routed by the conquering Christians, but were allowed to keep their trees as a consolation prize, as long as they swore they were celebrating the birth of Jesus. The Druids also bring the tradition of mistletoe, they believed it had aphrodisiac powers, serving to unite mates so that they will be fruitful and achieve pregnancy in order to populate the tribe. Alas, we only get a kiss these days.”
This time of year is, in many parts of the world, a truly special time. Maybe in this global village linked by the Internet, we can celebrate it as a time of revelry, as well as a time for reverie. A time for planetary dreams. A time to make sacred in our communities, with our friends, and all the neighbourhood beings.
The sun brings hope and the promise of warmer days, here where the snow covers the ground and the cycling is slippery. Wherever you are, may the solstice be a time to reflect on our celestial place, as well as a time to share good cheer for justice and equity on this lovely blue planet under the sun.