Friday, December 21, 2001

deconstructing this time of year: the winter solstice

[email composed 21 December 2001]

Greetings everyone,

Please pardon the interruption. I'm sending this to everyone in my address book, which includes friends I see regularly, friends I don't see so regularly anymore, friends I'm related to, friends with whom I work or used to work, friends with whom I dragon boat (or used to), friends I've met through our mutual admiration of the Old 97's (although you may be used to a different e-mail address), or anybody else that is for some reason in there.
By now you've probably had one of three reactions:
- Hey, a message from Doug!
- Oh, not another message from Doug!
- Doug? I don't know a Doug.
And if it was second or third one, you've probably stopped reading and deleted the message. I understand.

Okay, I'm only addressing the people who are still reading now. Thanks for sticking with us. On to the real message...

It's the Winter Solstice (in the Northern Hemisphere). Well, technically, today's when the Winter Solstice occurs (at 11:21 am, Pacific Standard Time, if you wish to catch the exact moment). This is it: the shortest amount of daylight all year; starting tomorrow we see a little bit more sun each day until June 21. A number of religions and cultures of the world (those that started in this hemisphere at least) seem to think that this return of the light is cause for celebration, and thus, this time of year is (in these politically correct days) identified as "the holidays."

Lacking any specific religious allegiance, and being a white guy (therefore not having much in the way of worthwhile culture), I can't claim to really have a "holiday" but here in the U.S. that's not a problem: we all celebrate Christmas whether we believe Jesus was the son of God or not; we all have the day off work, we may as well get together. I applaud this opportunity to gather with loved ones. However (those of you who know me saw this coming), there is part of me that cannot help but feel a little guilty co-opting the observation of the birthday of the Christian savior without holding avowed devotion to said savior. That's why I'm spotlighting the astronomical event of the Winter Solstice and not dwelling on any particular ritual that springs from it: I certainly don't wish to tread on anyone's beliefs (or lack thereof, for my atheist readers).

No, I'm not going to bore you with details about the solstice itself. If you wish to find out more, there's a number of worthwhile sites on the web that can fill you in (I reviewed to verify the exact timing of the solstice, but feel free to do your own search). I want to seem clever but not out-and-out dorky. (I realize I come across out-and-out dorky, of course, but that's not my specific aim.)

By now you've probably had a number of people give you some holiday-related greeting, in person, in greeting cards, on TV shows, in magazine ads, on billboards, and in e-mails--both people you know and strangers--and of course, from every clerk in every store where you've shopped to purchase those gifts that are the truly integral element of acknowledging that we're happy about the more-daylight thing. I have. This started me thinking (although, to be fair, just about anything will do that): Do these greetings influence reality? Does wishing someone a "happy holiday" actually cause that person to, in fact, have a happy holiday? And does that clerk really care whether we have a happy holiday or not? Should he/she?

It seems to me that it's entirely possible that these ostensibly altruistic messages uttered at the end of transactions, to strangers on the street, and so on, may not have genuine intent behind them: they are social intercourse, they are what one is expected to say, lest one be viewed as a Scrooge, a Grinch (before the Jim Carrey movie). But if we don't really mean it, what good is it doing? If the wish is to have any positive effect on the recipient, it seems to me, that it must be heart-felt, and call me overly cynical but I cannot believe that the clerk can mean it to every customer he sees for the entire month of December. Is a hollow greeting really any better than none at all?

Sure. It keeps people off your back. And promotes spending.

I'm not suggesting that the clerk secretly wishes ill upon the customer, that the actual desire is for the person to have a rotten holiday. Unless the customer was really rude, of course. Nobody wants that jerk to be happy. Admit or not, but you know what I'm talking about.

I don't wish bad on anyone--unless they cut me off in traffic or something, and only then when I'm in a bad mood, and even then I don't really mean it. But to be perfectly honest, I don't think everyone is destined to be happy during this period--at any given point in time, some people are happy, some people are unhappy, and the rest are somewhere in between; where someone falls on that spectrum is largely a factor of their own choosing, I think. (Yes, I'm using "their" instead of "his or her": deal with it.)

There's only so much for which I can be responsible. I don't mean to sound selfish, but, well, come on.

By this point, most of you are probably thinking I'm completely incapable of experiencing innocent joy. That's not the point. Don't try to distract me now. I may or may not. What I don't necessarily like is the way there's an insincerity to some of what transpires between people masquerading as good will that is taken at face value because we're all too afraid to puncture the fragile spirit of the season. But hey, I get over it. Besides, it's a free country: if you have "the holiday spirit," that's fabulous. I certainly hope that it would be sufficient to allow you to ignore the insipid ramblings of some idiot you find in your e-mail.

The only reason I'm sending this to you is I think you have some redeeming quality that justifies investing the hope that you choose to make yourself happy. I certainly think you should try to be happy during this period if for no other reason than the sun's coming back, but more important, I think you should try to be happy even after "the holidays" are over. There's a new year coming (thanks to Pope Gregory 417 years ago), and while I won't pretend to care about the happiness of every single person on the planet--that's just spreading myself too thin, I'm sorry; surely that task can be dispersed among the rest of the people, with each covering his or her (yeah, I'm back to that) territory of sorts--I shall pretend to care about the happiness of each of you then.

As long as you reply to this message, that is.

I don't care if you say anything, but I would appreciate everyone who wishes to remain in my address book to acknowledge that they've read this far. Even if you're not inclined to comment, just send me back a blank message. Really. I'm serious. And I'm not as desperate for e-mail as this plea would make me out to be (almost, but not quite). Apologies to those who received this in multiple addresses. Thanks.

The deity of your choice--or lack thereof--bless us, one and all, my friends. Or not, if you're not into that sort of thing...


p.s. I reserve the right to continue to care about you choosing to be happy even if you fail to reply to this message, just for the record. You're just a lot less likely to receive more messages from me--and many of them will be more entertaining than this one was--in 2002. Perhaps you'd prefer that, now that I consider it further...

1 comment:

  1. Have a Happy Christmas and Awesome New Year to you too Doug!

    -one of the very very few readers that loves your Spams :P


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