Hope may spring eternal, but it pivots on the solstice. It is a four-letter word of another ilk and it signifies the triumph of desire and need over experience. It permits persistence in the face of facts, statistics and probabilities. Hope is the antithesis of despair. The winter solstice is the return of light, warmth and renewal. We approach, once again, that season and event that has merited celebration for more than 5,000 years with good cause.
Most of us are familiar with Stonehenge, yet few are aware of the many and varied ring sites and other devices that plot the solstice. Aside from Brodgar and Seahenge, the people from Azerbaijan left the Maiden Tower, Celts left Newgrange, Incas left the stone tools of Machu Pichu, ancient Africans left megalith rings in Senegal, and the Pre-Columbian Pueblos left the Sun Dagger site in New Mexico, just to note a few. Each marked the annual end of darkness and were used to gather communities to celebrate, give thanks, worship or otherwise acknowledge the annual travels of what we now know is our planet around the source of its energy.
As the next harvest became more predictable, more assured, our celebrations took on other aspects. Mesopotamians brought evergreens into their homes 4,000 years ago to remind them that the earth would become green again soon. Romans specifically set aside days for silliness which the British later turned into “misrule”, an opportunity to turn the norm bottoms up. Staid Latvian town fathers paraded through the streets hoisting up small evergreen trees which were tossed into a bonfire in the main square. The annual rhythms of renewal were commemorated in nearly every culture that has ever existed. And still are.
It is thought that the Romans introduced gift-giving to the season with the presentation of tiny clay figurines of their patron gods to family and friends in hopes of prosperity and protection in the coming year. The Greek Saint Nick, the Swedish Father Christmas, the Italian Befana and Santa Claus were once kissing cousins but now appear to be leaning in the direction of identical twins. All of our cultural celebrations have and continue to morph as our world changes. Yet with all that change, this season remains imbued with the spirit of hope and cheer.
In anticipatory hopes of the richness of your table during this season, we are offering today a Chocolate Whiskey Cake. There are many festive recipes on the web site for Christmas and New Year’s favorites from near and far, so take a look and try something new to go with all your traditions. Happy Solstice, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and all possible hope to you and yours!