Friday, December 25, 2009

From the Land of Sunshine--A Bright Thought

Saturnalia—the ancient Roman festivities that took place in mid-December—may be the earliest verifiable ancestor of our Christmas/New Year festivities. Evergreens and holly probably have more to do with this tradition from frosty Europe than with the events in Mediterranean Bethlehem, as they symbolize faith in the return of the sun’s warmth and the regeneration of all that is green and growing, not to mention edible.

Japan has a tradition of reverence for the sun, too. Just look at the national flag—a red circle on a white background representing the rising sun. One of Japan’s preeminent geographers, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, wrote in one of his works that this showed a certain ecological wisdom. The American environmentalist Hazel Henderson would agree. Asked to place an economic value on solar energy, she replied, “Should we figure in the value of pre-warming the planet?” Without the sun, we might as well be Pluto.

Japan, too, tries to celebrate Christmas, but the festivities are more like Saturnalia—a way to brighten up a cold season that contains the shortest day and the longest night. Frankly, I like it. I like the idea of taking the given circumstances and making something out of them.

Makiguchi, the Japanese philosopher who gave our ancestors credit for recognizing the worth of solar light and warmth, didn’t advocate worshiping the sun as a god/goddess. Instead, he advocated a philosophy that asked, “Given your circumstances, what are you putting forth? What are you creating? What value are you adding to society?”

I like that thought a lot. Joy, cheer, an appropriate gift, breaking bread together! There are so many ways to put forth creative contributions out of our own particular circumstances.

Happy Holidays to All!