In the cool darkness of the early morning, my thoughts turn to the billions of people who have come before me. How difficult must their lives have been. I am reminded of the quote from Thomas Hobbes (5 April 1588 – 4 December 1679), considered to be one of the founders of modern philosophy. Back then, he described human life as ‘nasty, brutish and short,’ which serves to remind us of what a good time and place we were born into.
In spite of my own very human problems, I feel fabulously lucky to have lived the life I have been given. Living in a time with access to nutritional food, heat in our homes, nice clothes, vaccines, comfortable transportation to almost anywhere and access to an excellent education, books, media, wonderful music, we must be some of the most fortunate humans in history! And yet, all we do is complain… We seem to lack perspective.
The Winter Solstice in Human History
The winter solstice was a special moment in the annual cycle for most ancient cultures back to the neolithic. Astronomical events were often used to guide activities, such as the sowing of crops and the monitoring of winter food reserves. Many cultural mythologies and traditions are derived from this.
This is attested to by physical remains in the layouts of some ancient archaeological sites, such as Stonehenge in England and ceremonial structures in New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon. The primary axis of these monuments seem to have been carefully aligned on a sight-line pointing to the winter solstice sunrise and the winter solstice sunset at Stonehenge.
To the Ancient ones, the winter solstice was immensely important. They were economically dependent on monitoring the progress of the seasons. Starvation was common during the first months of the winter, January to April (northern hemisphere) or July to October (southern hemisphere), also known as “the famine months.” In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast, before deep winter began. Most domestic animals were slaughtered because they could not be fed during the winter, so it was the only time of year when a plentiful supply of fresh meat was available. The majority of wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready to drink at this time.
I have found this day to be a good time to count my many blessings and perhaps error on the side of the positive. The sun will return to bring spring and summer to warm the earth and make my sky garden bloom again. So yes, we do have much to look forward to. Let us drink and rejoice!