The longest night

Bright blue holiday lightsNow is the time our planet’s Northern hemisphere tilts away from the sun. The winter sun shines, but warms not, the cool greeting of a former friend. The earth rotates around the sun like a child’s spinning top, almost perfectly timed by the gravitational forces locking the star and planet together in mathematical synchrony. On the planet’s surface, the temperature drops and so pressure differentials arise – winds blow in unseen kaleidoscopic convective patterns. Clouds of water vapor form and hang over us. The gloom and cold come with the year’s longest night.

Our calendars keep rough track of the almost perfect timing of earth and sun, but the circuit of the earth around the sun is not an integer number of planet rotations; it may as well be irrational. As such, religious holidays have shifted from season to season as the imprecision of our calendars increases with time. Now, by coincidence or design, the longest night, the winter solstice, almost coincides with Christmas day.

We push back at the gloom and cold and darkness with a festival of light and sharing and family. For the religious amongst us, the longest night marks a time of hope. Even the music is different for a few days. Relentlessly diatonic carols from centuries ago resolve in perfect mathematical accord, from tonic to dominant to tonic. We gather in parties and gossip and pontificate, and think of our blessings, and our good fortune.

Perhaps not a bad time to remind our political actors that we are proud to be a tolerant and open people, and that is what we celebrate. Perhaps not a bad time to remind our political actors that they manage a public trust, that they represent us all, however we may be dressed, as the state has no business in our bedroom closets – indeed, we will not be distinguished by the easy things we do for our own benefit, but by the hard things we do for others. Now is the time to remember that, for it is cold, and the long night is coming.

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