December 19, 2010

Random Solstice Thoughts

The winter solstice will arrive in the Northern Hemisphere on Tuesday, December 21, 2010, at 3:38 pm Pacific Standard Time. The winter solstice was a big deal to the Ancients; Stonehenge and the Mayan Observatory at Chichen Itza are two examples of how attuned the old cultures were to the most basic celestial rhythms of the Cosmos. My guess is that Christmas occurs a few days after the winter solstice because the pagan celebrations on which the modern Carnaval do Consumidor is built reflect the anxiety of the ancients about the sun's steady descent in the sky. Will this be the year the sun disappears altogether? After a few days of watching it climb back up to a more reassuring azimuth, the pagans probably relaxed and threw a party, as only pagans know how. I would agree the sun's return is something definitely worth celebrating.

So I'm glad Christmas happens after the solstice, that millisecond, that flash when Earth, roaring along its orbit at about 70,000 miles per hour, passes Go and goes on to collect 365.25 more days. Up here where we live, way up above the Tropic of Cancer, the days begin to get longer and longer. The brain awakens, the mood lifts, the retina signals the pineal gland to cool it already on so much melatonin, and the next thing you know, it's all good. Happy Days are here again.

It's a shame we're not as attuned to these celestial rhythms, in a conscious way, as the ancient Mayans or Incans. If we were, if we paid more attention to what is actually going on in the Universe around us, I don't think we would have used December 25 as a guess as to when the Jewish kid was born in the West Bank region. Right when Northern humanity's energy levels are at their lowest and we most feel like sleeping, our culture demands that everyone crowd into Best Buy & the Big Box stores and line up for Chinese manufactured goods all at the same time. That's demented. If we're really going to do something that insane as a national pastime, why not in May or June, when we're up for it? You think there's maybe a good reason that brown bears just sleep this whole thing off?

Granted, "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow" is not going to have quite the same feeling in June, although they celebrate Christmas in Los Angeles and Honolulu in December, so how impossible can it be? Anyway, not to come off as a Grinch or Scrooge, but I think non-stressful approaches to the Solstice/Christmas are better for the soul. No one feels much like working, which is probably more attributable to the pineal gland being in overdrive and the shortage of natural Vitamin D production than reverent thoughts about the birth of our Savior. Naturally, being unnatural in our habits, we fight against these perfectly logical responses to short, dark, cold days, and force ourselves to waste this ideal time to take it easy by substituting a different hamster wheel for the one we've been treading.

As Thoreau wrote in Walden, a philosopher, to be worthy of the name, has to do things differently, not just talk about it. Thus, heeding my secular patron saint, no perfectly healthy fir tree dies to adorn my living room. I listen to Christmas music, but I try to be selective. I burned out a long time ago on the usual Xmas tunes sung by Ella Fitzgerald or Rosemary Clooney, or even Mel Torme. I downloaded most of Dave McKenna's "Christmas Party" onto my iPod, and plugged that into my car's stereo. That's a nice way to drive around the rain-slick streets. Dave's swinging piano, with that inimitable walking bass, can make anything sound like fun.

It's a good time to see friends and shoot the breeze. For the last few years, I've taken a walk on Christmas Day up on the Bolinas Ridge, a couple of thousand feet above the Pacific. Not too many souls out and about on that Solstice + 4 day in December. For some reason, it seems that Christmas is often a very mild and calm day around here, no matter the weather in the periods immediately before and after. I wonder if that could have something to do with the sun's azimuth suddenly doubling back on itself, providing a minute of additional sunlight for the northern atmosphere and disrupting jet stream patterns which had adjusted to the steadily diminishing solar energy. Where's John von Neumann when you need him, anyway?

So Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward Men, Women & Children. These simple facts about life on Earth are really far more important, in the grand scheme of things than macroeconomics or the other diversions we constantly occupy ourselves with. Try checking out of the Carnaval do Consumidor sometime. Black Friday, as you may know, is so named because retail stores finally start making money (go into the black, in other words) for the year the day after Thanksgiving. Thus, without this frenzied insanity, it seems very likely the whole awful Consumer Society would thrash about for a while and then die altogether. It's amazing how momentously great things can be accomplished through the simple agency of doing...nothing, exactly when you most feel like it.

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