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HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM LEE ROWAN
Looks Like We’re Still Here…
December 21 come round again, 12-21-12. The “sol-stice,” the time when the sun stands still and time shifts from growing dark to returning light. The world has not ended.
So—Happy “Baktun 13” for those of you who realize that the Mayans didn’t mean that the world ends just because you run out of numbers on a calendar. They did make an awfully bulky calendar, so you can’t blame ‘em for not wanting to change it every year. And they didn’t make just one. The pyramid “El Castillo,” at Chichen Itza, is said to be a huge solar calendar. Try taking this down to change it…
You have to give the Mayans credit, though – as mathematicians, architects, and astronomers, they kicked ass. That they were able to calculate the Solstice so far into the future, without any sort of calculators, is damned impressive. And since this seems to be a year for “gosh-wow” number games .. the actual minute of the 2012 Winter Solstice occurs, Greenwich Time* at 11:11.
*or “universal time,” now the “correct” term, though it seems pompous to me to assume that the universe is regulated by 1/24th of the time zones on this relatively small planet.
But they weren’t alone. People who live according to the change of seasons, people whose lives were run not by a mechanical clock but by the great clock of the stars wheeling overhead, seem to have developed their own ways of marking time. Stonehenge is a sort of calculator for marking the time of solstice, and a similar set of stones has been found in Brazil, another in Vermont, and many others in various places in North America. The Hopi and Pueblo people have ceremonies to encourage the sun to return. The Chinese celebrate the change from diminishing ‘yin’ energy to growing ‘yang’ at this time. In South America, the Inca have a Winter Solstice ritual – in June, of course, as it’s in the Southern Hemisphere. Banned by the Conquistadores, Inti Raymi was revived in 1944 and is celebrated once again.
The promise of summer’s return has been cause for rejoicing in cultures all over the world. What we celebrate today, however we celebrate, is not just a part of any one religion but reaches so far back that it likely predates written history.
Ancient Egypt celebrated Osiris’ death and rebirth at the Winter Solstice. The Greek Lenea went beyond symbolic death; Maenads tore a sacrificial victim apart in ancient times and celebrated his ‘rebirth’ as part of the ceremony. The human sacrifice was eventually eliminated, but that death-and-rebirth theme has been with humanity far longer than the Christmas season, and tons of gods, demi-gods, and heroes were celebrated at the Solstice. The social calendar got so crowded that at one point that the Roman Emperor Aurelian slung together Apollo, Attis, Baal, Dionysus, Helios, Hercules, Horus, Mithra, Osiris, Perseus, and Theseus into a single festival and called it “Birth of the Unconquered Sun.” And while the Jewish festival of Hanukkah celebrates an ancient victory and miracle, I think that the “Festival of Lights” being observed during the Solstice season is more than coincidence.
When Christianity took the Roman Empire away from Mithraism, it couldn’t seem to stop people celebrating around Solstice, so they slapped on a new label, even though the actual date was either in spring or fall, depending on who’s doing the calculations. The rebirth of the Sun and the birth of the Son… the language of myth is universal.
The Druids, in Europe, had a Yule festival that resonates with the death-and-rebirth theme, as well. The death of the old sun, the rebirth of the new—the new sun brought souls out of the Underworld for rebirth. And, again, when the Romans invaded, they superimposed their state religion over the deep roots of paganism – and added the Yule Log and the Christmas Tree.
Pomegranates? A feast-food to celebrate the Zoroastrian festival of Shabe-Yalda—something still celebrated in parts of Iran even though Islam has replaced Zoroastrianism as the state religion. I don’t know how these got into Christmas celebrations, but there they are.
Obviously, humans recognize that life is cyclical and have found an amazing variety of ways to mark the milestones.
And humans seem to be fascinated by end-of-the-world scenarios. We’re good at ignoring the obvious – climate change, anyone? Can you say, “avoidable problem?” and go for the big, exciting, Technicolor End Of Civilization As We Know It. Which makes a lot of people very nervous and then fizzles.
The funny thing is… nobody seems to pay attention to how often these predictions just don’t pan out. I ran across a great website that keeps track of all the doomsday prophets and their dud predictions… killer bees, anyone? Comet Kohoutek? Or the so-called “rapture” that’s been repeatedly announced since 1896… and rescheduled (maybe the transporter beam is on the blink?) My favorite, of course, is “Comet Lee,” which was supposed to have wiped us all out in 1999 but, unsurprisingly, had better things to do.
So – here we still are. Nobody gets out alive. So for heaven’s sake, or your own – look around at your friends and loved ones—two-legged, 4-legged, furred or feathered—and appreciate that we’ve got each other and, once again, spring is on the way!
Oh, and if you want more on the Mayan calendar, here’s an interesting blog:
the photo of el Castillo courtesy of http://historylink102.com/mesoamerican/rf-ci-1-el-castillo.htm
Lee Rowan has been writing since childhood, but professionally only since spring of 2006, with the publication of her Eppie-winning novel, Ransom. She is a lady of a certain age, old enough to know better but still young enough to do it anyway. A confirmed bookaholic with a wife of many years, she is kept in line by a cadre of cats and two dogs who get her away from the computer and out of the house at least once a day.
Advent Calendar Giveaway!
Lee will giving away a paper or ebook from her back catalogue OR a factory sealed DVD of Brokeback Mountain, depending what the winner wants.
The BONUS BUMPER PRIZE QUESTION (don’t answer this – just save them up for Christmas Eve.)
21. The Nutcracker Ballet has an important anniversary this year – do you know how many years it is celebrating?