Archive for December, 2022

Dec 29 2022

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Reflections on Christmas

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Usually, I don’t make any public statement about the Christian holiday that rolls around this time of year, but it seems disingenuous for me as a philosopher to ignore the elephant in the living room – in this case, the Christmas tree. Yes, Judy and I have one even though we are not Christians in any traditional sense of the word. We call it a memory tree, decorated as it is with ornaments that remind us of loved ones who have passed away along with those still living. We have lights up on our house, as well, and there are other holiday decorations inside our home. We “celebrate” this time of year the best we can. But it isn’t easy.

The West, including the United States, is a predominantly Christian culture. For over a month we are immersed in a frenzied build-up to Christmas whether we like it or not. With pagan-like tolerance, I can reclaim this time of year by celebrating the Winter Solstice. But I am not a pagan so that too seems disingenuous. I am deeply religious, but not in a way that makes sense to most people. No matter. Christmas is thrust upon me regardless of what I think or believe.

Raised Catholic, my feelings about this time of year are complicated by childhood memories. Then there is my mother, who was very much a Christian and loved this time of year when she was alive. I keep a Santa Claus on my bookshelf year-round in memory of her. Santa Claus, hmm… That confuses the matter, as do all the secular icons – the Grinch, Rudolph, elves, etc. – that have little or nothing to do with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth over two thousand years ago. Jesus Christ, he is usually called, because he is the God/man who came into this world to save us from ourselves. That is what the Christmas holiday is all about, despite the huge influx of retail sales. Oh yeah, this holiday is complicated for all of us. Very complicated, indeed.

Afflicted by Seasonal Affected Disorder, I am relieved to be on the other side of the Winter Solstice, with the prospect of daylight increasing with every passing day for the next six months. That alone is reason for me to celebrate the season. I look forward to the days ahead despite frigid temps. I especially look forward to turning the page on the calendar and beginning a new year. Nature, it seems to me, is reclaiming the world.

While chatting with a store clerk right after the holiday, I asked how her Christmas went. She said she was glad it’s over. No surprise there. Then she added: “It’s too much.” I have been pondering that for days. Yes, it is too much. It’s completely over the top for reasons that have nothing to do with the birth of Christ. It’s as if the entire Western world goes a little crazy this time of year. And most of us are glad to be on the other side of it. Go figure.

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Dec 15 2022

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Keeping the Faith

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Once there is less than 9 hours daylight, day after day, I find it hard to stay upbeat. Sitting in my study, writing essays about the human condition and other philosophical matters doesn’t help. Nor does all the holiday hoopla that breaks out this time of year. I try to play along, ignoring the worst of it, but the hoopla gets to me all the same. Bah, humbug?

Reading a few inspiring passages by some of my favorite nature writers made me realize that I’m slipping into an early winter funk. Despite the cold and snow, I need to be outdoors. So that’s what I did yesterday. I drove twenty-five minutes south then went for a hike around Milton Pond.

With only a couple inches of snow on the ground, a pair of Yaktrax was all it took to gain traction. I slipped them over my boots and set forth. I carried water in a small teardrop pack and stuffed my jacket in there, as well, once my inner furnace was cranked up. I walked fast enough around the pond to inhale deeply the fresh cold air without feeling like I was in a hurry. The pond was iced over already, surprisingly enough. The sun tried to burn a hole in the thin cloud cover overhead, but without much success. No matter. I didn’t mind the muted light.

I ran into only a few other hikers and their dogs so I was alone most of the time. That felt good. It felt good to tramp through the forest, over snow-covered ground, simply grooving on the wild. I am, after all, a nemophilist – one who loves the woods and haunts them regularly. My wife discovered that obscure word the other day then brought it to my attention. It fits.

Today I’m still in something of an early winter funk, but it’s not quite so bad after yesterday’s outing. I’ll have to get out again real soon, for a second dose of the wild. And that’s how a woods wanderer like me keeps the faith. While hiking through the forest, everything makes more sense to me, and life seems much more worthwhile.

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