Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Pagan holiday

It saddens me that the old nature-based holidays have been replaced by institutional ones, at least in this country in this era. I would much rather celebrate the seasons than gods or anniversaries of people and events, because those seasons are intensely real and current, whereas those people and events are long past or, in the case of gods, debatable.

Four holidays exist on my personal calendar: two solstices and two equinoxes, which divide the year into birth, growth, maturity, and decline -- just like life. This cycle is universal, unlike institutional holidays. The important people, gods, and events in, say, China, have nothing to do with same in the United States. How can we ever hope for universal peace if we have nothing in common to celebrate?

Regardless, right now is the three-day window that comprises my personal high holy day, the summer solstice. Fifteen-and-a-half official hours of daylight at this location; unofficially, more like 17 hours -- 4:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. -- if you count being able to see while outdoors. I’ve often been tempted to move farther north to enjoy the spectacularly long days that go with higher latitudes; however, those are balanced by spectacularly long nights, so I remain in place. For someone who measures hours of light and darkness all year long, it would be the wrong plan to seek out more darkness!

Lacking the ancient rituals that went with pagan holidays, I don’t do anything specific for this one. It would be nice to have a big bonfire or a bacchanal or some sort of celebration with fellow light-worshipers. There aren’t too many around here, so I satisfy myself by just being as awake and aware as possible, spending as much time outdoors or looking out the windows as possible, and startling people by wishing them Happy Solstice. It won’t come around for another year; meanwhile, we begin the long slide back toward 9 hours of daylight.

The decrease will become noticeable by August. The plants seem to know this, timing their birth, growth, maturity, and decline around the equinoxes and solstices. It wasn’t until we moved to Vermont that I caught a real sense solstice-as-climax. Garden perennials that grow in my home turf of Connecticut break out 1-3 weeks later here but have caught up by this date in a spurt that makes the air crackle with energy, as if the solstice is the target they all share. Up north, it’s probably so accelerated that you can see the growth if you sit still and watch. Here, you notice it the next morning, when something you observed 24 hours ago is suddenly 2 inches taller.

Then there are the birds, the sky, the colors, the position of sun and moon, and all the different indicators of the season. This year we’ve been fortunate in having good weather concurrent with the holiday, making it doubly special. I’ve been making sure to be up at 4:30 and not in bed before 9:30 so I can enjoy every minute of it!

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