Published in the Wisconsin State Journal on Saturday, December 10, 2011
Christ in Christmas fits within Christian systems of belief, not those held by two thirds of the world’s population that doesn’t believe the Jesus story. Nevertheless, during the time when Christians celebrate the arrival of the arrival preceding that of the wise men the rest of the world participates in celebrations centered on the celestial phenomenon known as the summer solstice in the Southern Hemisphere and the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere where the nights are long and cold like those in Wisconsin; you know, Good King Wenceslaus, the Feast of Steven and all that.
The lyrics for Good King Wenceslaus are noteworthy because they make no mention of the nativity even though Wenceslaus was a Catholic murdered by his Catholic brother. The version of Wenceslaus I favor is found in Walt Kelley’s Pogo tales wherein the turtle Churchy LaFemme sings, “Good King Sauerkraut looked out on his feets uneven,” the perfect accompaniment to ingesting heart-stopping Wisconsin bratwurst.
Until I participated in the disastrous group grope know as the Vietnam War I was a good Catholic boy; Catholic family and education culminating in a degree from Marquette University. After that I flew for the Navy. After Vietnam I flew for myself. I still do although that flying has nothing to do with aircraft and everything to do with the Earth.
Repeatedly leaving the Earth and returning to it is one of the best religious experiences. Through that experience I realized that the only altar worth approaching was solidly under my feet. With that realization the Earth became my god and the galaxies and stars wheeling above it my infinite angels.
That is why I own my farm. That is also why the farm is organic. If you treat the Earth with respect and wonder at the universe above it you will be rewarded. The night of the winter solstice is one of the best times to appreciate that reward. On that night I go out and listen to my god and angels as they pause, albeit briefly, before launching another non-invasive cycle. This year I’ll go out on the evening of December 22. A few days later, for old-times’ sake, I may or may not watch midnight mass from St. Peters for my once-yearly, theater of the absurd experience.
I know that by now some good Christians out there are drawing rhetorical long knives from their Bibles to defend their belief system. After all, Christianity has always advanced its cause with, “If you don’t burn with our love of Jesus we’ll burn you at the stake” strategies that brought about wonderful specters like the Inquisition, the Salem witch hunts and the circa-now religious ultra-right.
In response to that I suggest that while those good Christians are eating their festive turkey, drinking their eggnog and chomping the heads off gingerbread men they ask their inner Scottys to beam them to one of the refugee camps in Kenya where Somalis huddle to watch their children starve. If that ruins the fourth quarter of the Packers-Bears game for Wisconsinites sucking down a seventh beer while screaming for someone to bring forth an eighth don’t blame me.
That said I accept the impossibility of avoiding the Christmas celebrations during the season of the winter solstice. They are everywhere in tweets, tv specials, blogs, carols and the regrettable proliferation of reindeer sweaters aboard basketball-bellied men and embroidered bolero jackets on little old ladies with blue hair; an all pervasive, just-stop inundation that refuses to, a flow to go with for better and worse.
To beat against that current and embrace a few hours of sanity I suggest taking time on December 22 to consider the lessons of the winter solstice night. Gather friends and find an open area beyond city lights where you can listen to a universe that offered genuine enlightenment ages before we began darkening our world with dogmatic foolishness. Then to show you can muddle through in spite of it all, enjoy the holidays.
Link to the essay in the Wisconsin State Journal: