Re: “It’s beginning to look a lot like solstice” by Tim Walker; December 19, 2017; Vol. 14, No. 51

I was glad to see an irreverent cover story about celebrations of the winter solstice, because I think irreverence is the only suitable emotional reaction to the holiday season. Not that a solstice is truly associated with the contemporary holiday season. In the northern hemisphere, at least, the winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year. It’s the day we celebrate the uncertainties of nature and human nature; the plants we depend upon for sustenance are no longer thriving, but they have yielded enough to let us live another year. The winter solstice is a day we are thankful for what we have, knowing we could have much less. Even after Christianity’s most famous convert, the Roman emperor, Constantine, celebrated the first Christmas in 336 (a day Pope Julius I eventually moved to December 25), it still carried a connotation of humility after potential loss. Jesus lost a life his followers were lucky to have redeemed, after all, and who is a better symbol for being content with what one is given than a virgin who experiences all the hardship of pregnancy without any of the pleasures of conception?

And yet, despite having the winter solstice as a reminder, American culture no longer allows a moment for people to marvel at what they have (and what they could have lost). Instead, Christmas, which starts somewhere around Halloween by the consumerist calendar, is a moment for Americans to ponder how much more they deserve. What is bought, by who, and how much does it cost? With Americans adding an average of $1003.00 to their debt to prepare for the holiday season in 2016, this may be the only country where going into bankruptcy could be regarded as an indication of love.

To be fair, the Roman Saturnalia, for example, is also a celebration of one’s dedication to excess, albeit the Dionysian kind. Christmas, however, is not about pursuing one’s own pleasure. It is about determining the amount of time and money others are expected to devote to one’s pleasure. At least in America, the answer is: quite a lot.

Tim Walker’s examination of other cultures’ winter solstice celebrations reminds us not to take America’s attachment to celebrating “traditional” Christmas so seriously that we deem said traditions to be exclusive. Now, which steps do we take to take the consumerism out of Christmas? According to a 2014 study by Joseph Grenny and Max Greenfield – the self-styled BS (Behavioral Scientists) Guys – 64 percent of parents believe the idea of Santa instills selfishness in their children. Like the North Pole, it’s easy to forget about the potential selfishness of future generations the other 364 days of the year.

As a proud member of The Church of Stop Shopping, I try to take my cue from Reverend Billy (Bill Talen), a performance artist who, accompanied by his Stop Shopping Gospel Choir, travels to well known retail stores and preaches to consumers about the detriment of visiting them.

Even if you aren’t a natural activist like my reverend, I offer a challenge…Every day of the new year, year, give something that is impossible to return: time. Write a love letter (or several). Honor nature, or hide from nature by drinking hot chocolate (spiked, if you like) with friends. Learn a new craft and make a gift. Do a favor unbegrudgingly. Volunteer at an animal shelter. Offer one of your job skills to a nonprofit. Visit a nursing home and listen to residents’ stories. Volunteer with an organization that provides stability for children. Give hugs. Give kisses, if those are a gift of which someone is worthy.

Unlike the winter solstice celebrations Tim Walker profiled, the traditional American Christmas is rooted more in consumerism than in communalism. However, his research shows that some do not cover the urge to connect with others in costly wrapping paper or garish bows. Whether in the Judeo-Christian context or the pagan one, Christmas and the winter solstice are about honoring a sacrifices whether it’s the toil to make sure the land grants sustenance, or the mortal sacrifice of one who gave his life to make the world as he saw it could be (or so the mythos tells us, at the very least). I hope it’s possible for celebrations this time of year to allow people to mourn what has been lost while appreciating all they already possess. After all, the Greeks say winter comes because Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, mourns the loss of her beloved daughter, Persphone, who only returns from the underworld every spring, not because Demeter is angry about not receiving a new X-Box.

Like its namesake, Christmas needs a rebirth. It cannot come too soon.

As the newspaper cover reminds us, The Flying Spaghetti Monster may be coming any day now.

-Lillian Sues via

Finders keepers

Re: “Run for cover!” by Tim Smith; December 26, 2017; Vol. 14, No. 52.

We are still finding them in our house. They like to hide between clothing in the closet, between the folds of the curtains, within the house plants. *sigh

-Bettina Solas Stolsenberg via

Cozy up

Re: “Run for cover!” by Tim Smith; December 26, 2017; Vol. 14, No. 52.

My husband had one on his arm in bed. He thought it was a stray hair or fuzz, but when he went to brush it away, it was the last (I hope) remaining stink bug!

-Donna Elsass via


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