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By J SWYGART
On this merriest of days, let me be, if not the first, then certainly the most enthusiastic of well-wishers to offer to you all a hearty “Merry Solstice.”
It’s my favorite day of December; heck ... probably the best day on the calendar since the chill of October muscled September out of its path.
By technical definition, the December solstice occurs when the sun reaches its most southerly declination of -23.5 degrees. Yeah, yeah. Blah blah blah. In more conventional terms, it’s the first day of winter and — most importantly — the shortest day of the year when it comes to daylight hours. That means it’s all downhill from here, at least until late June, when the trend reverses itself again. If we’re lucky.
Starting right now, each day is getting a little longer (hey, it may only be a minute or two, but I’ll take it), even as Old Man Winter is gearing up for his annual rude intrusion. Still, this whole solstice thing is nothing to be taken lightly.
Being a mostly solar-powered creature, sunlight depravation has indeed taken its toll again this year. My personal grinchometer has been registering off the charts of late, and I’m pretty sure it’s not just this approaching holiday season thing that’s responsible (although it is, without question, a factor). It’s those 4:30 p.m. sunsets that get a guy down.
But, current giddiness aside, it seems that maybe this year’s solstice celebration should be ratcheted up a little; maybe an extra shot or two poured into the iced glass later this evening is in order. Because, as December solstices go, this one might be the last. The next winter solstice will come on December 21, 2012. If we’re lucky. You see, many “end of the world” prophecies target that date because it corresponds to the last day of the Mayan calendar.
So if Armageddon is just around the corner, let’s party like it’s 1999 ... you know, when Y2K was the impending doom of the day. We survived that one. This time ... ? Who knows. But better safe than sorry. So pour me a double.
Now, there undoubtedly are some who are reading this — the more discerning among you — who have picked up on a few nuances so far in today’s column. Like, for instance, an earlier reference to the “holiday season,” and a borderline neurotic obsession with this whole solstice thing.
So, to dispel any further confusion or consternation, let me take this opportunity to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. See, despite a decidedly secular bent, I have no problem whatsoever with a “reason for the season” greeting as well.
Conversely, I fail to grasp the mentality which leads some people — my better half, being one — to go into convulsions when they are smilingly offered a pleasant and sincere “happy holidays” instead of the more traditional “Merry Christmas.”
No one, to the best of my knowledge, is trying to take the “Christ” out of Christmas. Contrary to seemingly popular belief, the ACLU is not conspiring to bump plastic likenesses of the baby Jesus off every courthouse lawn in the country, and there is no concerted effort to dilute the joy Christians find in the celebration of Christ’s birth.
And if there ever was an organized effort to remove the true meaning of Christmas, that ship has long since sailed — courtesy of Madison Avenue and the greed merchants who thrive there.
If anything, the “happy holidays” wishes served up at some national retailers should be taken as a sign of enlightenment, a realization that their customers come in all faiths — or in none — and that the risk of offending those who do not observe Christmas can harmlessly, or seemingly so, be avoided.
But really, after standing in insufferable lines to plunk down my hard-earned money for a gift that is probably fodder for next year’s garage sale anyway, it matters little to me whether I’m offered a “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” or “Happy Boxing Day” or a “see ya around, sucker.”
As long as it’s said with a smile and not a snarl, I’m a pretty happy camper — as holiday, umm, Christmas shoppers go.
Then again, maybe it’s just the Winter Solstice that’s got me all warm and fuzzy. Or at least as warm and fuzzy as I’m likely to get.
So, whatever your persuasion, whatever makes you happiest — I hope each of you finds it during this special time of year.
The writer is the opinion page editor of the Decatur Daily Democrat.