Putting aside all so-called religious fables which are more tribal than spiritual we are left with a shared calendar. Even then, in the Northern Hemisphere, winter shows its many divergent faces. The only true commonality of the day is the solstice, the dying and reemergence of the light; from here on daylight makes a comeback.
During my first 21 winters in Forest Hills / Kew Gardens I was the kid with two or three sweaters under a hooded Mackinaw with ear muffs, gloves and scarf dragging my Flexible Flyer three blocks to a dip in the topography we called the Toilet Bowl. It was a perfect place for sleds however if you went too far, too fast you just might end up in the Grand Central Parkway never to be heard from again.
Today the difference in temperature between here and there is about 45 degrees. Sleet and slush are not in our vocabulary. Styrofoam snow or Glass wax on windows don’t quite conjure up the white stuff that piles up in driveways and streets back east causing skidding and white-out conditions.
We pretend to keep the Norse legend alive. What can hurt? More than that we need our seasons as Vivaldi heard them. We need to end the imaginary year, to slow, be still, correspond to skeletal trees, to keep to the cycle of life, and listen to the stillness of everything gone. We need the mind of winter.
Short days, long nights give us ample time to align ourselves with the natural word of death and rebirth, our fears and hopes, as well as the urge to compensate for the cold and lifeless dark with hot toddy and gift-wrap under lit evergreens. We Jingle-bell the silent night and decorate the barren landscape with bulbs and seasonal language.
This year, more than ever before, it is hard to escape a sense of dread owing to what appears as the death of decency, inclusion, progress, science, of the planet itself. After these most noisy and nasty months we might welcome the solstice for its elongated shadow that signals introspection even as an ill-wind blows.
The ancients feared the sun might never return. We know the feeling. We can join Europe in doom-saying as available light is rekindled. Or we can take it as a time to access our faith, yes faith, in a compassionate and equitable society and seed those values to reassert themselves in their own time. The solstice is the day for renewal of what must prevail. Otherwise we risk riding our sleds into the toilet bowl and disappear in the traffic of history.