Kage Baker always celebrated the Winter Solstice. The Summer one, as well; and the two Equinoxes, those festivals of equipoise and calendrical toe shoes … but the Summer Solstice was inarguably her favourite.
“The longest day!” she would exult. “The high point of the Sun!” And she’d eat pizza for the ritual meal. Pizza was designated since our adolescence as the perfect Summer Solstice food; being, as it was, the nearest edible object Kage could come up with to a burning wheel …
It’s a matter of perspective, I guess. In Kage’s perception, the Summer Solstice was a solar triumph, a deep well of sunlight striking through the calendar year and the turning ecliptic. She never thought about the fact that, in reality, the Earth begins at that moment to turn back into the embrace of Night. It’s the beginning of our long fall into the dark.
Conversely, I love best the Winter Solstice – but not because now we begin to climb back into Light. I love it because of its dancer’s balancing act on the diamond linchpin of the Dark, the perfect stillness of the turning world there on the summit of the Winter. It’s where Winter begins, after all; though its glittering, frozen heart won’t be triumphant for another month or so, the ice crown settles on the brow of the world now.
I don’t look across the rim of the wheel to the fever days of Midsummer, any more than Kage paid attention to the icy jewels on the opposite diadem of Midwinter. We just spun in place, where our hearts were happiest.
Tomorrow is the Winter Solstice. To be precise, it happens at 23:03 PM UTC, which translates out to 3:03 PM here in Los Angeles. Still an hour and a half shy of sunset, but with the grey ceiling we have over the Basin right now, it’ll be getting dark already. And if you go out in the back yard and turn your face up to the unseen stars and spin as fast as you can for a moment – well, you can feel the abyss of the winter sky drawing you up like ablating frost from the cold ground. You can fall into the sky, between the dark moon and invisible Venus, and from there into the cold silk of the new grass that’s sprung up from the winter rains.
This year, the winter seems especially dark, with not even the memory of light to be seen. The Universe is all black glass and bell tones, velvet and matte silver: no reflections. No echoes. If we’re spinning, I can’t by looking this year.
And yet (as Galileo muttered under his breath): Eppur si muove.
Still, it moves.
Certainly, Winter Solstice is my favorite, single, point on the Year Wheel. True, I love the Spring shower of petals from our plum tree, falling like the snowflakes on this page, and I love the long, lazy, seemingly endless evenings, sitting in our back yard, thinking about a second martini, and listening to the birdsong. But, those are seasons, enjoyed at leisure. The Moment that takes my breath away for the sheer joy of it is that at which the Old Year dies, and the New Year begins: you can FEEL the promise of Spring present herself, even though it is dark and damp and the night is still long. From that moment, I have a little more spring (no pun intended- but it’s a good one) in my step, and a little more reason to smile. True, there will be many more dark nights, but we know a secret: Spring is right up there, just ahead, just as The Green Man promised.
Sometimes I ask myself, how do those people live, who are unaware of such things- how can you get through a day, never mind a year, without knowing where you are? Deep in their genetic hard wiring, there is knowledge, whether they know it or not. When they put up a tree, or lay out a creche, they are, however unconsciously, celebrating the Return of the Light. If they get a faint glimmer of what’s behind it, that’s wonderful- literally, full of wonder. Good enough.