As I start to write this blog, we are at the winter solstice. Our journey into the darkness here in the northern hemisphere has ended and we will be journeying back into more light every day for the next 6 months. For those of us in the northern hemisphere this happens to correlate well with our celebration of Christmas. With the birth of Jesus the incarnation of God, Emmanuel, brings God’s glorious light of love into the world.
Many northern hemisphere cultures have old histories of celebrating the winter solstice. Spiritually, these celebrations symbolized the opportunity for renewal, a shedding of bad habits and negative feelings, and an embracing of hope amid darkness as the days once again began to grow longer. Some of these celebrations included: the Welsh "Alban Arthan" thought to be the oldest, Chinese Dongzhi Winter Solstice Festival which marks the return of yang, England's Stonehenge, and the Roman Saturnalia which began on December 17 and lasted for seven days. It is Saturnalia that really formed the basis for the time of our celebration of Christmas. Since nobody really knows when Jesus was born this celebration of darkness turning back to light was a good symbolic way to celebrate the incarnation of God.
What about the Southern Hemisphere? How would it be to celebrate Christmas on the summer solstice when light is returning to darkness? I remember reading Pope Benedict’s book “The Spirit of the Liturgy” where he contemplates this issue;
Now in the Southern Hemisphere everything is reversed. The Christian Easter falls, not in the spring, but in the autumn. Christmas coincides, not with the winter solstice, but with high summer. This raises the question of “inculturation” with great urgency. If the cosmic symbolism is so important, ought we not to adjust the liturgical calendar for the Southern Hemisphere?
After many mental gymnastics he concludes:
if we did this, we would reduce the mystery of Christ to the level of a merely cosmic religion; we would be subordinating history to the cosmos.
With the support of Tradition, he concludes a historical birth of Jesus in December based on the historical placement of liturgical celebrations and the writing of Tertullian in the early 200s. Interestingly, my understanding is that biblical scholars tend to point to a birthday of March based on the fact that the shepherds were in their fields at night as they would be during lambing season.
Does this really matter? Not really in my opinion. I could see the celebration of Christmas, God’s light of love entering the world through Jesus working well in the southern hemisphere as they would be basking in the fullness of daylight on Christmas day. Maybe that would be an even better image for the celebration of Christmas, that the full revelation of God’s light in our world occured that Christmas over 2000 years ago. Benedict concludes with a sentiment like this:
The South could help the North to discover a new breadth and depth in the mystery, thus enabling us all to draw afresh on its richness.
No matter what, Christmas is a glorious celebration and beautiful revelation of God’s grand Love for all of creation. I wish you and your families a joyous and blessed Christmas season, may the light of Christ give you hope in God’s love for you and all.
In closing, I want to pass along a reflection from the book “Jesus Calling”
Come to me, and rest in My Presence. As you ponder the majestic mystery of the Incarnation, relax in My everlasting arms. I am the only Person who was ever sired by the Holy Spirit. This is beyond your understanding. Instead of trying to comprehend My Incarnation intellectually, learn from the example of the wise men. They followed the leading of a spectacular star, then fell down in humble worship when they found Me. Praise and worship are the best responses to the wonder of My Being. Sing praises to My holy Name. Gaze at Me in silent adoration. Look for a star of guidance in your own life, and be willing to follow wherever I lead. I am the Light from on high that dawns upon you, to guide your feet into the way of Peace.
Peace, Love, and Blessings