Once again, as the year winds down and the fullness of the winter season begins to take hold, we are presented with a whole range of considerations and expectations, which seem to appear typically at this time. For me, this year has been as tumultuous as they come, and there is a flood of concerns yet to be addressed, as well as the unfolding of events which have prompted me to reconsider my current path, and inspired me to investigate further, several of the ideas which have occupied my mind of late.
Chief among these have been the ever-changing landscape surrounding my home. I have been paying close attention to the comings and goings of the plants and trees and flowers this year, and continue to marvel at the sometimes astonishing changes that have taken place.
As many of you readers may recall, I have been mourning the loss of the large tree out front, and have truly been inspired by the natural resilience of that tree to continue to sprout new growth in spite of being recently reduced to a stump. The final images were a bit disappointing, as the leaves simply turned brown and fell off around the stump.
And yet, the smaller tree stump near the house, finally burst forth with some brilliant leaves this fall and provided a few lovely images that reminded me of years past. The relentless growth of the ivy creeping once again up the front of the house truly astounds me with its dynamic persistence, and will require some additional attention this spring.
The autumn this year provided some wonderful opportunities for photography, and I was fortunate to have the chance to expand the range of my travels to include some fabulous scenery in several of the surrounding states near my home.
One of the most impressive blossoms of the year came just a few days ago, where the unusually warm weather of the past few weeks apparently triggered the blossoming of the rose bush out front in a spectacular burst of color, just ten days before Christmas!
This year, even with the restrictions of the pandemic, and the relentless stream of unfortunate events out in the world-at-large, I have been prompted to consider what meaning might be found in the winter season, and particularly, how it all gets wrapped up in the Christmas rush.
It’s not everything that has been done and said, written or expressed through history that reveals the significance of the Christmas season. It’s clearly not only about all the hoopla and the carrying on, the decorations and sales, or the visits to Saint Nicholas at the local mall.
It’s also not really just about what has been depicted in the many traditional religious interpretations of the season from around the world. If we look back in human history, long before there was a Christmas morning with a baby in a manger, expectant parents forced to stay in a stable, and wise men traveling to see the newborn king, there were a number of other traditions and much cultural reverence for the winter solstice, when the Earth tilted just the right way, after the harvest, leading us into the approaching winter.
When you look back over the ancient literature of the past centuries, you will see often an equivalence drawn between a human life and the seasons of the year. The spring being the birth of all life on the planet, through the blossoming of the flowers and trees, the unfolding green lushness of the world of summer, all the way through to the maturity of the autumn, where the beauty becomes ubiquitous and startling. As it fades, we gradually find ourselves leading up to the winter season, when all things begin to decay and return to the Earth, and for a time, we must endure the harsh realities that appear at the end of the year.
These rhythms have been with us long before Christmas as we know it today. Humans have long drawn the comparison of a human life to the turning of the seasons; we are born in the spring; we grow and flourish as we enter the summer, which brings with it the peak of our powers, and as we age, we reach the autumn of our years—the most brilliant, most productive and beautiful part of our lives—right before the encroaching winter as we enter the final stages of life.
In time, even the religious implications of the stories surrounding the preparations of the birth of the Christ child, were altered to fit the calendar; all of the various ideas surrounding the religious traditions constitute an expression of the symbols of the season and were made meaningful by the humans who created them. If you have even a small amount of sensibility, you can see how the seasons shape us—how the tides of our lives shape us—and how all these aspects mirror a truth—a reality—and while it might not conform precisely to whatever traditions we follow, it does suggest something very human.
As we approach the season of Christmas in our current tradition, we all look forward to coming together, sharing familial love, and receiving gifts. As young children, we have always looked forward to receiving gifts at Christmas—which is completely reasonable—and even as we age we may look forward to receiving a gift from that special someone in our lives. As you age even further, you begin to understand a bit better, that the most important gifts we can receive at the winter solstice and at Christmas time do not need to be wrapped in paper and sealed with ribbons.
The most important gifts can be as simple as an embrace; as a loving glance; as a heartfelt “I love you,” spoken by the people we love. And while recently there have been far fewer opportunities for such gifts, those of us in our maturity now can look back over a lifetime of all such gifts, and we understand now, better than we ever could before, that the greatest gifts are often intangible. There’s no need to embellish or invoke cultural mythologies or any of the variety of religious connotations. This time of year, this season, is a reminder to us of the finite nature of life, which begins with birth in the spring, continues through the growth and flourishing of all things in summer, transitioning into the glorious peak in the fall, and ending with the diminishing seasonal winds of winter, when all things once again, end and renew.
While we may not especially look forward to the relentless broadcasts of seasonal music everywhere you go, there’s no reason to be opposed to the music that invokes the arrival of the winter solstice, the end of the seasons of the year or the winter of our lives. The traditional songs and music are the echoes of what runs through everything, not just through the music we hear at this time of year.
There’s no need for discord or disbelief. It doesn’t matter what we believe. What truly matters is the embrace, the heartfelt glance, and the echo of the words, “I love you,” from those we love.
Let’s not forget, that everything that came before us, is what brought us here today, and as we celebrate here and now, what we show each other will fill in the moments of the memories of our children and our grandchildren, and we hope that they will feel the same way that we do.
God Bless Us, Everyone!
4 thoughts on “Finding Meaning in the Winter Season”
Lovely musing and wonderful photos.
Thank you for your visit and for your generous response!
“As you age even further, you begin to understand a bit better”
Wonderful post John, and what a treat to read this wintry morning in mist filled Kent, just near to the English Channel where a cruel world daily turns away those seeking refuge and a better life.
How vastly important are the sentiments you express and how little I understood in my youth.
Thank you for your kind words and thoughtful response as always. None of us can really be criticized for our lack of understanding as young people, and the recognition of our limitations typically comes after a degree of life experience and perspective not generally available to us when we are young. Our educational institutions may not be keeping up with our modern world challenges either, and family life seems to be quite different these days as well. My strict upbringing may have prevented me from progressing in a positive way with my understanding generally, but it also had the benefit of instilling values that helped me to navigate the sometimes murky morals on display in the world around me.
It isn’t a foregone conclusion, in my view, that we are beyond recovering our standing as a species that will rise to the challenges we face, especially when we see particular individuals who stand up to do what is beneficial to our fellow travelers in this life, and what we may need more than anything is to start putting less emphasis on what is sensational or detrimental in the world, in favor of what might be done to reverse what is detrimental, and to encourage our young people to change the way they look at the world and to improve on what has been done in the past. This is a tall order, I know, but the only way to make things better is to get to it.
There are plenty enough resources in the world to help those in need and plenty of smart people out there who could apply their talents to figuring out how to undo the tangled web we’ve woven so far, but we must summon the will to do it. Your own writings and thoughtful essays often contain the kind of encouragement and common sense ideas that could be helpful, and I appreciate the opportunity to share this platform with you.
Best wishes to you and yours this holiday season!….John H.