A Real American Holiday

A First-Class Holiday

Melonyce Mc Afee in Slate.com has an affectionate memoir about Kwanzaa past.

Two things I like about Kwanzaa– it starts on December 26, perfect for procrastinators, and you don’t have to buy a lot of presents. It’s also made in America.

But what’s more American than tweaking an institution to suit your needs? Some folks who don’t go to church pine for more than the dancing black Santa from Wal-Mart. Plus, Kwanzaa and Christmas are not mutually exclusive—’tis the season of peaceful co-existence. A rule of Kwanzaa states that one “should not mix the Kwanzaa holiday or its symbols, values and practice with any other culture.” But Kwanzaa starts the day after Christmas, so until Dec. 26, you can drink eggnog out of a gourd shell.

Melonyce may have Unitarian tendencies.

There’s a rainbow of religious holidays this month, all observed in America. From Hanukkah, at the start of December, to Watch Night on the 31st. Gathering in the dark time to celebrate the light began before history.

Yule has come and gone, and I’m trying to not peek at the Almanac. The root meaning of the word ‘solstice’ is ‘pause’. You don’t want to look at the times for sunrise and sunset if you are craving the light. The sun actually rises a minute later and the daylight is increasing only by seconds.

It is a good time to pause, if you have opted out of the mall madness. I’m gonna buy some gifts next week, just in time for Boxing Day.

Adele M. Stan at Alter.net says that giving up Christmas saved her sanity. She opted instead for a silent night where all is calm…

Now, I’m not anti-Christmas. I love the decorations, the special foods, and some of the seasonal music. I’m not religious in the traditional sense, but Christmas Eve often finds me in church, hearing friends sing in choirs, or play liturgical music. I love the Christmas story: the notion of the redemption of the world through the birth of a child is breathtakingly beautiful. And so I come back to that.

My solitude rarely lasts a whole day: it lasts just as long as I need it to. Friends drop by on their way home from their Christmas feasts. Or I decide to do something non-Christmas-y for a few hours, as I will this year, joining a Jewish friend for Chinese food and a movie with his little boy.

I got out to Central Congregational Church last weekend for a wonderful concert. At the end they turned off the lights and we saw the church by candlelight– which was how past generations saw the world.

Past generations had many ways of celebrating Christmas, from sitting on a hard pew listening to hellfire, to a twelve-day feast.

We can pick and choose, create our own rituals, start new traditions– they were all new once, and take a pause in the dark of the year to light a candle.

Dark and Cold

Richmond Square at the end of Pitman Street

At church this Sunday they were having a genteel argument over whether 2010 is the first year of a new decade or the last of the preceding. Most of the snow from the big storm has melted in two days of warm and mild weather.

Now an arctic front is moving in promising dry cold and wind like a knife. Already I’ve had to put extra salt on the steps.

I watch the sun. I promised myself not to look at the almanac until after the New Year, because now the sun stands still and the days are not getting longer quite yet. I run in and out of houses, overheated for the most part. The elderly complexes are well-protected from the elements. The triple-deckers usually have a designated room where a space heater wins out over the drafts. I would like to go on a retreat, but that’s not how we live, or make our living.

There’s still something special about this time of year. I’m keeping the tree up for a while.

Solstice 2009

Golden Apples and Bittersweet in North Providence

Solstice is both an astronomical and spiritual annual event. From the Christian Science Monitor…

At 5:47 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time (that’s 12:47 p.m. Eastern Standard Time) Monday, the Northern Hemisphere marked the mid-point of another year, as measured by the sun’s highest position each day above the horizon. It marked the day with the fewest hours of sunlight this year.

The wheel of the year turns slowly, and we won’t be able to count increasing minutes of daylight until after the New Year, but this date marks the longest night and the beginning of Winter. The coldest days are ahead, but we are moving toward Spring.

I’ll let Hecate, who is a practicing witch, (I’m too lazy to practice), share a few improving thoughts for Solstice 2009.