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Do you feel it in your bones? Today of all days, the hopes and fears of our ancestors must haunt us. It may be the most ancient holiday of mankind, and worth a few minutes of thought.


To ancient humans light wasn't just the way they found their way around the world. It produced food, vitamins and kept down fungal and other infections. It was their hope of survival. Children born in winter were different than those born in summer, because their prenatal nutrition was so different (thus the Zodiac.)

So when the light began to return, humans celebrated. Ancient Persians celebrated Shah-e Yalda in honor of the birth of Mithra. The Chinese celebrated Dongshi, wIn northern England a stone circle clearly aligned with the date.  So does the 4000 year old observatory in the Shanxi Province of China, and the mortuary temple of queen Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahari in families got together to make bright colored balls of sticky rice called tangyuan. The Zuni and Hopi celebrated Soyal to mark the new cycle of the wheel of the year.

When the Romans moved into northern Europe from their generally-sunny homelands, they found a feast that couldn't be dislodged. Yule involved the cutting of whole trees there! No point in missing a party, so at first Saturnalia became the fashion then as the Christian emperors held sway, Mithra's birthday became Christ's. (In the Southern Hemisphere, of course, the conquerers had a logistic problem and solved it by declaring St. John's Day as the reason for the season.)

Perhaps the wisest of the rulers was the Icelandic King Haakon (~840) who (unlike our current legislators) was able to pass practical laws quickly. He declared  that "Everyone...had to keep the holiday while the ale lasted."

From their graves and crypts and scattered ashes our ancestors are telling us that tomorrow will be a little better if we choose to make it so--that we can survive the problems of today with a little good cheer.

No, the world won't end today. But perhaps there's a little hope that Boehner's cataclysm yesterday might signal the start of some sort of improvement in that very unique and sheltered world!


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