Happy Holiday 2016
Today’s December 21st. There’s a cluster of holidays around this date for a reason. It’s the shortest, darkest, and often coldest day of the year. For our ancestors, this time was death. Little light, little food, no way to survive outdoors, and you’ve been stuck inside the same smelly hut with the same dozen people for months.
Thus, around this time, many cultures in the northern hemisphere developed a tradition of celebration. Across those cultures, we celebrate the darkest time by loving each other, being generous and kind, and holding to symbols that remind us of life and light, and the belief that they will return. The days will get longer, the ice will melt, the world will turn green again. We celebrate our faith in that because it’s what gets us through the darkness.
I’m an atheist, myself, which means I have a tricky relationship with faith. I’ve too often seen it used as a word to beat other people with, or as an escape hatch for a logical or ethical dead end. So when I speak of faith in the return of the light, I feel I need to clarify that just a bit.
Faith is, as Mark Twain famously said, believing what you know ain’t so. But it’s also believing what you don’t know is so, and that distinction is important. We don’t know that spring will come again, only that it always has. We have to believe in things that haven’t happened yet, because many of them need our belief to make them happen. If you believe you can overcome a problem, then maybe you’re right and maybe you’re wrong. But if you believe you can’t, then you’re definitely right and also screwed. Believing in what’s not real yet is the first step in making it real.
This particular solstice, December 2016, is a particularly dark one. A number of worst-case scenarios are playing out simultaneously, and it’s been a year of loss and pain for many of us. I’m hearing smart people, people whose opinions I respect, talking about how maybe this is the time we don’t make it.
So this year more than any other, let us celebrate. Let us give gifts and drink and sing old songs and do cheesy rituals and feast like our lives depend on it, because in a very real sense, they do. The darkest times pass and the light returns, because we make that happen. And part of how we make that happen is with our goofy old holidays about reaffirming our faith. We believe we will live to see the light come back, and so we do. If it were easy, we wouldn’t need all the rituals for it. This year more than any other, let us celebrate.