Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Winter Solstice

Yesterday was the Winter Solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the full year it takes our lovely blue planet to complete one orbit of the sun. It is an important day, and has been around longer than any other celebration.

In times past, winter was a potential time of starvation if enough food was not put by for survival of the family or community. The shortest day meant the turning point, the re-birth, the anticipation of the return of days long enough and warm enough to grow more food, and it became a celebration.

During the same time of for winter, people often slaughtered much of their livestock to cut down on the need for feeding them over the winter. Thus there was an abundance of fresh meat. Any grains or fruits set aside to ferment usually had matured by this time so there was usually plenty of mead, beer or wine to drink too. Perfect components of a celebration!

In modern times, we still hold winter celebrations to combat the 'winter blues'. Many people suffer from what we now know as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) characterized by feeling cold, tired, and depressed much of the time. We know the disorder has to do with ambient light, and certainly the shorter days have an effect.

What's commonly known as 'Cabin Fever' or 'Winter Blahs' is not the same as SAD which has more complex causes, although the amount of sunlight has an effect on both. One antidote for cabin fever is to get outside, away from the house, and mix with other people. I know I feel much better today with the bright sunlight reflecting off all the new snow than I did over the past 3 days that were gray and overcast.

I once flew from Montreal to Boston sitting next to a doctor who was to speak at a medical convention. His topic was the reduction in incest rates with the advent of the snowmobile.

We continue to hold and value winter celebrations for emotional comfort, notably the celebrations of Christmas, New Year's, Twelfth Night, and the pre-Lenten festival of Mardi Gras. I suppose technically football should be included in the list, especially the Super Bowl parties.

I used to hold a beach party every year in February. We cleared all the living room furniture, covered the floor with beach towels, and turned up the heat. Guests were required to wear bright summer shorts and shirts, even if it meant bringing them to change into, or wearing under their overcoats. Food was picnic fare, and of course, beach music. It was great fun, more so if it was snowing outside.

So if you are feeling down, have a party. Celebrate!

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