After a tumultuous year politically and personally for Mike Stuchbery, he reminds how humans have survived the darkest hours.
The weekend was the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. It’s always been a day marked by ritual observance and festivities, stretching far back into human memory.
Earlier this year, while researching for a story, I came across the Goseck Solar Circle. This circular series of earthen mounds and wooden stakes was used by the inhabitants of what would (much) later become the German state of Sachsen-Anhalt, 7,000 years ago, to correctly identify the passage of the solstice.
Speculation as to why this place was constructed has been brisk over time, but the consensus due to the nature of finds at the site seem to suggest that it was a place of mourning death and loss, but more importantly, celebrating renewal and keeping hope alive.
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It’s something I often think about as I walk through the Christmas Market of Stuttgart – rammed with visitors from hundreds of miles around. Young people, families, elderly couples – all take a certain degree of fixed, gleeful determination in celebrating. Glühwein is drunk, gifts are purchased, Stollen is consumed. The air is filled with sweet and savoury smells, with a hint of cinnamon, even on the days when the clouds lay heavy and almost black with rain.
Christmas is serious business in Germany and always has been. It’s thought to have given us the Christmas tree, the basis of several popular carols, and a number of seasonal delights. Many traditions can be traced back to the medieval observances of the birth of Christ, still more back further, to the Germanic Yul.
I can see why. Life here has not always been easy. If there’s one corner of Europe that has been visited by plague, war, famine and death, it’s the German-speaking lands. The celebration of Christmas – of something even older, the turning point of the year – has always been a powerful moment, a defiant expression of hope.
For me, it’s been a long, tough year, full of moments I’d really not rather relive. I’ve changed fundamentally. Moreso, it’s been a time of great disruption in the world. The triumph of Far-Right populism at home, the resurgence of white nationalism and the fracturing of public trust in many institutions have ground us down and driven many to sorrow. It’s easy to give up hope, to turn a blind eye to what is slowly creeping back into our world.
That’s why Christmas, the Solstice, whatever you want to name it, is so very important. It’s a time that asks us to throw our cynicism, our hurt, our prejudices aside, and engage in a little mindful love and hope. It’s a time to enjoy good food, good company and let down our mental fences.
Now, more than ever, we need to take joy and succour in Christmas cheer. We can’t forget that our ancestors, who often lived in circumstances we can barely imagine, downed tools and made an effort to come together and love one another.
It was dark for them, but the light returned. So it will for us.
I would love to extend a heartfelt thank you to all of you who have enjoyed my historical musings this year, and furthermore, wish you a blessed, joyful Christmas with your loved ones.