So the year comes to its end and another year begins. I was sitting in the kitchen yesterday watching my wife cook up a feast for us (bewilderingly huge, food to last the rest of the week at least, and all of it gorgeous and lovingly prepared) and I got to wondering where this all came from. Why did we decide to make the change of years in mid-winter, and what is it about this Winter Solstice that prompted our earliest ancestors to call a feast day to mark it?
I have a thesis that European civilisation sprang from having to spend a third to half of the year in long hours of darkness and months of bitter cold. What to do with the time? Learn to cook? Paint the walls? Talk? Come up with ideas and concepts of the meaning of the universe, its purpose and our place in it? This period in the cold followed by the time of Spring through Summer and Autumn that allowed for time to put those ideas to practice, does this explain anything?
So my theory is we chose to mark the moment when despair turns to hope, and the feeling things can only get worse becomes the feeling that they must get better. It may be a fool’s dream, but it gets us through the winter (or most of us, at any rate).
Well, as a French philosopher (whose name I forget) once remarked, the pleasure of discussing such things is that there is no end to the conversation, no conclusion to be drawn. So I don’t know, but certainly I do know this: the days begin to get longer and the promise of the warm weather to come offers hope, keeps our spirits up, where endless cold and wet might lead us to despair, and truth to tell, this is a time of despair as well, getting worse until Spring eventually comes. Suicide rates are at their worst at this time of year, business is at its lowest, there’s plenty of dark news despite the brief uplift of Christmas, Hanukkah, Hogmanay etc. etc.
I’m an optimist, I always think the new year will bring good fortune, and if by the end of it nothing much has changed, for better or for worse, by then I don’t care as I am already looking forward to the next year.
If there is a purpose to this universe, and suppose a Supreme Something that oversees it all, it probably just watches it going on changing and unchanged, as it always has and always will, and doesn’t get involved in such human concepts as hope and despair. Fortunately, our lives are brief in that scheme of things so we can experience the way things get better (or worse), however temporarily, that there is change and we gamble that we will benefit from it until that day when we cease to experience it or care anymore. Despair must be the product of losing that sense of the possibility of improvement in our lot, and foolish hope is the product of expecting more than life can ever offer. There is a balance to things, a kind of working out of levels, and in the end, of course, life’s a tragedy, it ends in tears, and that goes for everyone. Everyone, no exceptions. But in the meantime, it’s a blessing.
So I hope your 2014 brings a decent share of ups for you, not too many downs, and always, the living spirit of hope and adventure. It may be a lot of things, this world, but it is always beautiful, and a marvellous opportunity for our souls to experience Life.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!