The Long Way Home 12.23.2022

Well, it’s that time of year again. The sun rises at a quarter to eight and disappears less than nine hours later. 

With the weather we’ve been getting, the clouds have made the depressing lack of sunlight, short as it is, even worse. 

And the snow. Enough already.

On a happier note, the sun is moving toward us again since Wednesday and longer days are coming. The Winter Solstice, a cause for festivals and celebrations for millennia, has led to many of the holiday traditions in modern times. 

Ancient cultures viewed this time as one of death and rebirth. Christians adopted it as the time of the birth of their savior. Seinfeld adopted it as the birth of Festivus. And so it went.

Yule, the predecessor to today’s Christmas, began as an ancient pagan winter solstice festival. People celebrated with a 12-day feast and burned a Yule Log that stayed lit for all 12 nights. Can you sing the 12 Days of Christmas?

We Swedish people began a festival of lights, called St. Lucy’s Day, which honors a Christian martyr from the 3rd century who was killed by the Romans because she brought food to persecuted Christians. Political jokes are set aside.

No matter the tradition, or religion, this time of year gives off a feeling of goodwill to others and near miracles for children.

In my younger days, that time in the 60s filled with dread over communists taking over, our family traditionally celebrated Christmas at home in Richfield. Christmas Eve was not a holiday for most working people. 

Dad would start the morning by giving a shot or two to the milkman--the two standing just inside the kitchen door and toasting to good health before downing the shots. Knowing how my dad would be later in the day, I wondered how the milkman ever completed his route. 

Dad would head out in the morning to see customers and vendors and would get home somewhere around dinner time, filled to the brim with Christmas spirit(s). 

Our Christmas Eve tradition included pasties for dinner (fast clean up, and Mom made the best pasties) followed immediately by an exchange of gifts. Often friends and neighbors would drop by later. And then it was off to Richfield Lutheran Church (RLC) for midnight services. 

By the time I’d been disabused of the notion that Santa was a jolly old elf, I was an acolyte at church. We had to arrive early so I could don my robes and light the advent candles.

 RLC was a big church in south Minneapolis and it filled to the rafters for Christmas Eve services. 

When I’d gotten a bit older I was promoted from acolyte to sound and lights guy. 

Sitting at the top of the balcony, looking over the Christmas Eve crowd below and hearing them singing Silent Night, it was easy to believe in the miracle of Christmas. Until you missed a cue to change the lights or activate Pastor Rasmussen’s microphone. It’s amazing how clearly he could make his displeasure known to me from such a long distance without alerting the congregants to the errors of my ways.

So, we’ve passed the solstice. 

Last Monday was the first day of Chanukah, a Jewish festival of light that ends on Boxing Day this year, December 26. 

Kwanzaa is an annual celebration of African-American culture from December 26 to January 1. 

Festivus, a secular holiday celebrated on December 23 and made popular on the Seinfeld show includes a Festivus dinner, an unadorned Festivus pole, practices such as the "airing of grievances" and "feats of strength", and the labeling of easily explainable events as "Festivus miracles"

Whatever holidays you celebrate this time of year, or if you celebrate none, Merry Christmas to you…everyone.