Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Winter Solstice

Once again, we arrive at the shortest day of the year.  As the year progresses, the sun appears not only to move from east to west, but also to trace a path farther north or south in the sky.  This northerly or southerly travel continues until the solstice, when the sun appears to stand still and begin to reverse course.  Today is the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, which, for us, means the shortest day and the longest night of the year.  After this, the hours of daylight will increase, and the darkness will decrease.

Which may have something to do with the fact that Christmas falls right about this time.  According to the Julian calendar, in use at the time of Christ, the winter solstice was regarded as occurring on -- December 25th.  To the extent they acknowledge the existence of Christ at all, the modernists and skeptics, who hold that we created God and not the other way around, like to cast doubt on the historical validity of December 25th as the day of His birth.  But it was God Who created us, and gave us our taste for symbolism, and He satisfies it without the need for us to make up for any lack of ingenuity on His part.  Setting aside the difficulties of perfectly transposing the Gregorian and Julian calendars, the simplest and therefore probably true explanation for why we celebrate Christmas on December 25th is because Jesus Christ really was born on December 25th.

As I hope I may never tire of pointing out, the changes of season are freighted with spiritual significance, and not because we give them that significance ourselves in order to satisfy some primitive instinct for religion.  They are significant because God, Who is a God of Order and Harmony, interwove nature and salvation history.  The winter solstice coincides with Christmas, when the Light of the World enters the world and the days begin to lengthen.  The summer solstice, when the days begin to shorten, coincides with the Nativity of John the Baptist, who said that he must decrease while the Savior increased.  The vernal equinox coincides with the Feast of the Annunciation,  the beginning of the Incarnation and the end of the winter of Satan's reign.  It also coincides with Good Friday, when the Cross became the Key that opened the gates of heaven, barred by sin.  Then comes the spoliation of hell, and Easter, which marks its decisive defeat, and takes place on the first Sunday on or after the first full moon on or after the equinox (say that one five times fast).  There are no huge feasts that coincide with the autumnal equinox; my own theory on that (and it's only my opinion) is that, since it coincides with the time for harvest, it stands for the harvest of souls at the End of Time.

Next to all this, neo-pagan change-of-season festivals are pretty lightweight.  This Christmas, may we all seat ourselves at the rich banquet of Christianity, and pass up the New Age baloney sandwich.

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