This article is published at the precise moment of the Winter Solstice – 2021 December 21 15:59. The moment at which winter officially begins. The moment at which the old year – battered and bruised from the impact of events; bowed and buckled under the weight of its history; worn and weary from its 365-day sojourn – drags itself over the threshold twixt last year and next, only to begin the hard slog towards Spring. The moment at which we might well imagine despair reaching its nadir and, having nowhere else to go, turning towards hope. A time of change. A time of transition. A time of renewal. The shortest day or the longest night, according to one’s disposition. A barren time or a tabula rasa depending on one’s temperament. And ending or a beginning contingent upon one’s perspective.
Of course, we don’t actually mark the turn of the year for another ten days. But the Winter Solstice predates Edinburgh’s iconic Hogmanay shindig. Our calendar has slipped out of alignment with the great celestial timepiece which governed the lives of our ancestors. We have freed ourselves from the tyranny of universal mechanisms, only to submit to the hardly less despotic rule of Google Calendar and clocks guaranteed accurate to within a nanosecond per exasecond. So we mark the great annual tipping point at midnight on 31 December. By which time the actual winter Solstice is old news.
Or perhaps we observe both. We have a hankering for such markers, after all. The appeal of a fresh start seems hard-wired into human nature. The promise of a fresh start is a powerful incentive. Pretty much everybody who wants something from us offers the promise of a new beginning in return. Religion. Politics. Commerce. At the core of all these lies a trade involving something we have being exchanged for the mere promise of something we crave so fervently that even knowing the promise to be empty often isn’t enough to deter us from accepting the deal. People give up some significant part of their intellect for the promise of a moment at which guilt and regret end and an eternal idyll in paradise begins. People forfeit their democratic power to whoever makes the most persuasive promise of an end to iniquity and inequity and a bright new future. People trade their resources for goods and services that they hope will transform their lives. Convince a person that they can have a second chance and they’ll seize it eagerly even if at some level they are aware of the lie. The very idea of redemption is so beguiling as to demand the suspension of disbelief.
Those markers of potential turning points appeal to both our urgent desire for renewal and our aversion to change. The desire is gratified by the promise while the aversion is indulged by the fact that there is always another marker to which the trauma of change can be deferred. To some extent and for many if not most people every Monday is the ideal time for the detestable grub to emerge from the cocoon of our past and soar into the sunlight of a new life as the gorgeous butterfly we know we’re capable of being. Who hasn’t promised themselves that they’ll start that diet and exercise regime on Monday? Who hasn’t forgiven themselves the sins of their weekend on the strength of a promise that Monday will be the day our new life starts?
If the idea was to make Winter Solstice 2021 the moment to turn your life around then you’ve missed it. But that’s OK! It was silly to think you could do it this close to the Festive Season. You can put it off until after Christmas and still enjoy the warm glow of anticipating the promised change. Never mind Monday! The greatest ‘Redemption Day’ of them all is approaching – the start of a New Year! What better time to do whatever it may be that you’ve resolved to do? Unless you count the first days of that New Year as part of the holiday. In which case there’s always Twelfth Night. Or the day you return to work. Or the first Monday after that. Or….
‘Tis the season of goodwill! More honestly, ’tis the season for expressions of goodwill. Sincerity is always optional. In accordance with tradition and respecting social norms I therefore offer this hope for all. May the day come sooner rather than later that you honour the promises you’ve made to yourself.
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