‘Tis the Season

For millennia, all across the northern hemisphere, human beings have huddled in the cold and dark as the winds picked up, snow fell, and the days grew ever shorter.  Hunting, gathering, farming done, they gathered together, kept up the fires, visited, told stories, sang, and feasted as much as they could.

All across Europe, the Yule log, the largest and straightest to be found, gave warmth through the longest night of the winter. From Rome to Ireland, holly wreaths were worn at solstice celebrations. In Egypt, palm trees brought indoors symbolized resurrection; from Rome to the far northern reaches of Norway, evergreen branches were brought in and decorated, celebrating life in the dead of winter.  In Germany in the 17th century, people started bringing in trees on December 24, the Feast of Adam and Eve, to represent the Tree of Paradise.

In northern Germany and Scandinavia, the Julebok is everywhere. Originally it symbolized the goats that drew Thor’s chariot, which he sacrificed to feed his guests and resurrected the next day. Made of the straw left from the harvest, it was burned at Yule.

Mistletoe is the ancient Norse plant of peace. The death of Baldur, the god of vegetation, by a spear of mistletoe wood, brought winter upon the world. Baldur was resurrected, and his mother Frigga declared that it would be a plant of love, not death.  Enemies meeting by chance in the woods beneath mistletoe had to declare a truce, and people kissed beneath the mistletoe to celebrate life and Baldur’s resurrection.

The new year begins in late fall in India, with Diwali, the Festival of Lights, a celebration of the triumph of good over evil.  The house is cleaned, family gathers, and dozens of small oil lamps burn all night. Jews light Hanukkah candles, to commemorate the rededication of the Temple, for eight days starting on a day in the dead of winter, chosen because it was the day when Nehemiah had miraculously rekindled the altar fire from remnants of coals hidden generations before, when the Jews were taken into their Babylonian captivity.  At the very end of winter, just before the spring equinox, Iranians of all religions prepare for the New Year with a Festival of Lights, jumping over bonfires and crying “Give me your beautiful red colour and take back my sickly pallor.”

We gather in the cold and the dark with our friends and family, decking our halls with evergreens and lights. We tell each other stories of love, hope, rebirth, and the return of warmth and light.  We sing and feast as much as we can. Jesus’ birth is part of one of the old, old stories of death, sorrow, love, and rebirth.

Let all of us say to each other many greetings and not begrudge one another the warmth of love in the dark and cold.

Farms and Food

From the Daily Yonder, bits about the Farm Bill, which may be hidden in the deficit reduction and renewed for 5 years without any hearing or debate, and competitive markets for agriculture,  and from New America, some thoughts on obesity – the majority of the US is now overweight. And there’s another salmonella recall.

Whether we live in the country or the city, a farm state or not, we all have to eat.  The industrial food system is part of the corporate takeover of our society and government, and another way our system is not working for our health and happiness; we need to pay attention.

Words Can Never Hurt Me

An apparent high school suicide in our community, attributed to bullying, has emotions running high, and a lot of memories of our own young experiences coming back.

I did some looking around when it was said that the school involved had no policy, and in fact had a “no tattling” policy, so that children were discouraged from reporting.  What I found was that there is a state anti-bullying law, a statewide policy, and local policies and programs.  I also read a good bit of teacher discussion on “no tattling”, and found that teachers are aware of the need to distinguish between tattling to get someone in trouble, and telling to get someone out of trouble. But I didn’t agree with the approach the laws, policies, and programs seem to be taking. I think we may be emphasizing “fixing” the bullies too much, and strengthening our kids in how to react, too little.

When I was young and harassed, I was repeatedly told “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Now, apparently, we are telling children, and each other, indeed, words can hurt us.  When I was young, I never quite got what it meant.  I could see part of the difference, but the words did hurt. Being excluded hurt. It didn’t help that my mother’s mantra was “What will people think?” I couldn’t wait to get out of my home town, where it seemed hardly anyone understood or liked me.

In my twenties, I read Albert Ellis’s book A Guide to Rational Living, which includes “Ten Irrational Ideas” which I wrote about here.  Putting what he said into practice changed my life. His irrational ideas are things that people tell themselves that make them miserable. The first one is “It is a dire necessity for an adult to be loved or approved by almost everyone for virtually everything he or she does.” Aha! Words hurt because I tell myself they do.

I think we need to be telling our kids – at home, at school, at church, in clubs, on teams – that it not a dire necessity that everyone love or approve you. It is not achievable, and the desire to make it so will make you miserable, possibly suicidal. Much of the harm from even physical and sexual abuse comes from the “awfulizing,” both by the community and the victim. We tell child abuse and rape victims “It’s not your fault, and you are not a bad person because of it.” We need to tell harassment victims “It is not your fault.”

It’s not your problem – it’s their problem – if they don’t like you or say mean things because you are tall, short, black,white, gay, red-headed, cross-eyed, rich, poor, fat, skinny, smart, stupid, or ugly. If it is sticks and stones – physical – report it; that’s not acceptable. If it’s words – consider whether it is something you did, something you can change, that caused it – if it wasn’t – that’s their problem.

Of course, we don’t want to raise kids who are self-righteous, or be that ourselves. Not everything is “their” problem, either. Human society doesn’t work without people considering other people’s needs. If we are inconsiderate ourselves, that’s our problem. Bullying works because of that – we always have to consider if part of what they say is true, or if there is something else we do that makes us a target.

Bullying never goes away. There is a whole literature on bullying in the workplace.  At work, as at school and home, it is a tempting way to gain power, and there are grownups as well as children who just gain pleasure from hurting other people. So bringing up children to deal with it is a life skill. It is a life’s work, and the work of our religions, to learn what truly hurts us and others, to examine our consciences and learn what  is important to change and what it is important to ignore.

Private Streetlights?

Every day I have more than one smart-aleck remark on the news, and occasionally a deep thought.  Sometimes I can even tell the difference.  Rather than continue to pepper my friend’s Facebook news and email boxes with them, I’m going to start posting a link page, with comments.  Here’s the first.

Mayor’s last-ditch effort to save Detroit would privatize 88,000 streetlights

I think this really mean out-source – tax money to a for-profit contractor.  It reminded me of a report I’d seen last week on an energy-saving streetlight system being installed in Spain

New System of Intelligent Management of Street Lighting Enables 80% Savings in Energy

This works by having sensors to determine whether there are people or cars on the street, and dimming the lights if there are not.  It is also networked.

Seems to me Detroit could truly privatize its streetlights by using EZPass – turning lights on for only those walkers and drivers who have paid for the privilege.  After all, why should those of us who seldom go out at night pay for lights for those who do?

On the other hand, maybe making things nicer for each other helps us all – cleaning up vacant lots has reduced gun violence, vandalism, and stress in Philadelphia neighborhoods, and people are getting more exercise. And people in Manchester and Sheffield, England, say they would pay more in taxes for public landscaping with natural areas and trees.

Especially for those who think Solyndra was just another example of US government corruption and waste – Scientific American reports that perhaps Solyndra failed because Chinese subsidies for its solar industry were bigger than ours.

And especially for my Texas friends:

Mr. Perry said Monday night that “I’m the first to admit I’m not the most polished candidate out there.”

Well, what is that on his hair, then?