Here in England we are in the early hours of December 21, the shortest day of the year North of the Equator. For me, this date always seems strangely symbolic of the seemingly endless struggle between light and dark. For six months, the light in the Northern hemisphere has fallen back, as onward surged the triumphant darkness; but tonight, as if in a great battle like a Gettysburg, or a Stalingrad, the tide of this struggle will turn, the advance of the darkness will be halted, and the joyous light at last begin to return. We can start to look forward to the rebirth of Spring, and then those long Summer nights in the garden, or better still on the beach, and 40°C of heat; (well maybe not 40°C, that was a bit hot!).
This date also held great significance for the followers of ancient customs like paganism, for whom the Sun and the seasons were particularly revered. These festivals were of course, incorporated into what has now become Christmas, when we followers of Jesus will celebrate His birth. However, historians suggest that Jesus was actually born in early Spring, and not 'in the bleak midwinter'; and our Christmas decorations are drawn from various sources including the Roman festival of Saturnalia.
It was perhaps from my late Father that I inherited my dislike of these long, dark nights and English Winters. Dad always said if he became a millionaire, (he didn't by the way), he would live in England from April through September; and in Australia from October through March! Sounds good to me, and for Dad, who loved his Summer days and Cricket, it would have been a kind of Shangri La...
However, it was also on this date, seven years ago, that this darkest of days became even darker in our family story when my Father-In-Law, Denis, one of the finest Gentlemen I ever knew, made his final journey to the Promised Land. He is loved and missed today, and every day, by all who knew him and were touched by his life; and for the rest of my life, in addition to it's place in the solar calendar, this date will always be tinged by the sadness of his loss.
Requiescat In Pace, Dad...
December 21 is also a date which holds an interest for an old History Geek like me, since it was on this day in 1864 that American Major General, William Tecumseh Sherman, completed his famous 'March Through Georgia'.
In an incredibly bold operation his forces had left the captured city of Atlanta on November 15 and, living to a large extent off the land and captured supplies, they had blazed a path of destruction sixty miles wide through the state to reach the coastal city of Savannah, which surrendered without a fight. With Abraham Lincoln re-elected in November, and the South now split again, Sherman's audacious campaign effectively drove the last nail into the coffin of the Confederacy, who surrendered on April 9, 1865.
And so for me, today is more important than any New Year's Day; and whatever, if anything it means for you, I would like to wish you and your loved ones well in it. I hope it reminds you that even in your darkest moments, brighter times lie ahead; and I pray that your world will be filled with light, both literally and figuratively, in the months to come...
"Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness."