In the last blog of this year I wanted to wish all my readers a very enjoyable relaxing and, hopefully, thoughtful time as 2014 draws to a close and flips over the first page of a new calendar.

For me, the most significant day at this time of year has just gone by – the winter solstice, the shortest day, for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, at least. It is an ancient significance, the day when the sun stops retreating and the slow return of spring begins. The fact that so many ancient monuments align to the solstice dawn shows how significant this turning point was for our ancestors.

For others, my children not least, the more significant day will come in a few days when they will, depending on their personal conduct throughout the year, find a gift or two beneath the tree that currently looms over our front room. Others still will celebrate or mark whatever their personal belief system or tradition dictates in the way they wish.

But for me, the key day is the solstice. It’s not a religious thing, it’s not a question of faith or belief, it is the thing at this time of year which is an empirical and actual fact – the earth spins around the sun, and begins the shift which puts the hemisphere in which I live towards the sun again, creating the longest night or shortest day.

For me, the solstice is a symbol of both constancy and of change – it happens every year, you can set your astronomical clock by it, or even build a stone circle/temple/henge to align to it. But is also says that the darkness that had been increasing over the past months will now begin to recede, the days will get longer, the nights shorter.

It says to me that while people crave constancy, they also live with and not only cope with change, but also celebrate it. Clearly the solstice was marked in ancient times, and the festival has been adapted and adopted by various religions, traditions and societies until it has become what it is today.

Many can find this time of year depressing, and I too, had a moment a few weeks ago when there seemed to be nothing but supermarket adverts on the television, and the whole commercialisation and crassness of the capitalist model that urges unrestrained spending (and the necessary consumer debt that goes with this) to ensure the retail sector can continue for the other three quarters of the financial year brought a wistful melancholy to my soul. That melancholy turned to anger when one shop sought to trivialise and demean the memory of the millions killed in the first world war to flog a few more chocolates, but that is a rant for another blog, and another time.

Not wanting to be to Scrooge-like, I reflected, I thought on things, I considered the wonder that is the midwinter, the constancy and the change, and my mood shifted and I too found myself turning back towards the light.

So now I prepare to join the feast when the days are darkest, when the night is longest, to mark a time of festival, of lights and food and gifts and celebration that, to me, speaks to the optimism which is the very heart of the human  experience. The days may be dark, but things will get better, things will change, the light will return.

Now, the day after the solstice, I write this seasonal blog and urge any of you kind enough to read to consider what this time of year means to you. A soulless commercial necessity? A time to celebrate the supernatural? A poor excuse to pick a man’s pocket? The birth of a special child? A time to light a specific number of candles? A turning point, a time to look forward, a time to celebrate the darkness, because without the darkness how could we see the light?

Very whatever, one and all.

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