Monday, December 21, 2009


Here we sit four days before Christmas poised on the edge of another developing winter storm, bad news for those whose holiday plans include travel (mine don’t for the first time in many years and I’m grateful for that). The current track would put the heaviest snow beginning Wednesday --- up to a foot --- in north Iowa and deliver heavy rain to south and southeast Iowa, turning to snow early Christmas morn. The trick here will be to make the transition from rain to snow without excessive ice. And then again everything could change by Thursday, so we’ll see.

Whatever the case, I’m warm and dry and celebrating (in a modest way) the winter solstice, the second of my new years (the first was the beginning of Advent). In case you missed it, the solar year turned at 11:47 this morning Iowa time. This has been the shortest day of the year for those of us who live in the northern hemisphere; and this night, the longest. Very gradually now the days will begin to lengthen and, for a time, the cold to deepen. This also is the official beginning of winter in our culture, but also called midwinter since beginnings and ends vary from time to time and culture to culture.

So I have lighted the four candle lanterns on the front steps against the darkness, and will continue to do that until Epiphany; and am surrounded inside by the lights and colors of Christmas, many of which carry forward traditions and symbols that predate the birth of Christ by millennia.

The church has never been shy about recognizing a good thing and turning it to its own purposes and it surely is no accident, since the historic date of Christ’s birth is unknown, that the early fathers and mothers planted Christmas, the Christ Mass, on Dec. 25, which under the Julian calendar (established 47 B.C.) was the date of the solstice.

As the photos indicate, I have a few too many signs and symbols of the season around me here and there are more --- but some of those have been farmed out elsewhere for a few weeks to brighten things up for others. This is a small house, after all.

Everything here has a story and reminds me of someone --- each ornament on the tree, that hot pink ca. 1970 “Feliz Navidad” card sent by an Army buddy who declined to allow the fact he was in the middle of a war in Vietnam prevent him from sending out personally designed and custom-made creations, other cards, also framed, that were circulating in my family as early as the 1880s. And so it goes.

It’s a good night to sit here by the fire (actually, a furnace) and remember absent friends, think fondly of those still present, count blessings and look ahead to the new year now dawning with faith and hope.

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