I think I may have missed the chance to do so this year, because I was too busy to spend the proper amount of time with my two boys during these cold winter months. I did manage to get the tree decorated and the presents laid out underneath, but the rest sort of fell by the wayside. Also due to the fact that bean doesn’t really know anything about Christmas, so she can’t help much.
Anyway, now that I have made myself an excuse, let’s get to the Heart of Winter.
The world dies during the last days of December; the world in the north is at its darkest, its coldest. The days grow shorter and shorter, the nights longer until Darkness wins. Or so it seems. In those dark cold nights, everything is not dead, but sleeping. Waiting for the sun to finally return to the land, warm up the ice covered landscape, and bring life back to the world. From the 23-25th or so, families are together, eating from the bounty of the year, staying warm. Drinking chocolate and egg nog and brandy laced awesomeness. But it doesn’t start in December, when the Darkness and Ice is at its strongest, it starts earlier, in the middle of November, when the coming reign of ice is already apparent.
In Germany, as a kid, we started the Christmas season on November 11th, and ended on February 11th or so. Partly due to the story of the Three Kings crossing the deserts to meet the newborn Christ, mostly due to the way things were celebrated millennia ago when darkness fell for three months, rising only with the spring.
So when the nights start growing cold, we prepare for the longest night of the year. We make some preserves. Hang some sausage. Get stocked on meats, taters, chocolate and whiskey. We get a tree in the house, to represent the eventual triumph of light over darkness – or better yet, to represent the endless struggle between light and darkness, sun and moon, ice and flowers.
So that’s why we eat pumpkins in late October and early November boys. That’s why we bake cookies and cakes and make gingerbread houses boys. To get fat for winter, and to replicate the hearth in small edible form, so we laugh at the cold and snow, instead of fear it, or hate it. That’s why we have the candles and the chocolate calendars boys, to count down the nights, till that final cold night.
And that’s why we gather on the 25th, under the tree, surrounded by a feast, with bloody mistletoe and white semen berries on our doors, to celebrate the return of the sun, the turning of the circle, the happy fact of survival.
“What’s semen Dada?”
“Yeah, and bloody what?”
“Semen is a seed, it can make babies. Mistletoe is small bush, and the berries of the bush look like blood and semen, seeds remember? And babies are made of blood and semen. So ..”
“Um. It’s stuff we put around the house like the tree and the wreath thing.”
“Ah. But what about Santa Claus Dada?”
Santa Claus. Santa is king of the Winter Sky boys, with a long white beard, a chariot drawn by reindeer, and several strong sons. He lives in the woods, surrounded by evergreens, snow, bears and fires. On Christmas, he flies across the world, reminding everyone to eat good, give presents, be happy, and have fun. Because the shortest night of the year is his favorite night. He likes the cold you see.
“Dada, that’s not at all what any of my friends say. Or what I see on TV. Or anywhere else really.”
“Yeah well. Decide which story you like best and run with it boy, now get your ass in the tub and scrub those stankin feets.”
Jesus the Jew who became a God was not born during the shortest, coldest days of the year, but that is common knowledge these days. Santa Claus could be a Jew hating monk from Turkey, a jolly German turned saint, or Coca Cola’s coup – doesn’t matter.
Getting your story down is one thing, but the ceremonies … that’s what I will need to have down next year. I remember the story only because I associate.