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Rob Port: The darkest day of the year

Humanity, it seems, robbed on the solstice of the fullness of the sun's light and warmth, has, across its spectrum of race and culture, created traditions that seek to replace that literal light and warmth with figurative alternatives found in family and fellowship.

Pedestrian walking at night in Fargo.JPG
Dec. 21 marks the longest night of the year. In the Northern Hemisphere, the Winter Solstice will cause many people to leave their homes and return in darkness, like this woman crossing 12th Avenue North in Fargo. Forum file photo
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MINOT — In our part of the world, which is to say the northern part of the northern hemisphere, we saw, this week, the darkest day of the year. The winter solstice. The day when the North Pole reaches its furthest tilt from the radiance of the sun.

It's a dark day.

A cold day.

Christmas is what most of us, in our society, celebrate this time of year. We light up the Christmas trees. We light up our homes and businesses. We light up our lives with friends and family, works of charity and gift-giving, music, and feasting.

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Yet, those same themes exist outside of the Christian tradition.

The Romans, at various times and in various ways, worshiped a sun god, Sol, celebrating the deity, the "unconquerable sun," around the time of the winter solstice.

The Zoroastrians celebrate "Shab-e Chelleh/Yalda" by gathering together to drink, eat, and read poetry.

In many Asian countries, including China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, they celebrate Dongzhi by bringing together families and eating tangyuan.

Pagan Slavs celebrated Korochun by lighting fires in cemeteries and holding feasts there, so their ancestors could feel warm and honored.

Jewish communities observe Hanukkah this time of year, and while it begins and concludes well before the solstice, the symbolism is relevant. It is, after all, the "festival of light."

Stonehenge
Credit: "Hello I'm Nik" on Unsplash.com

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Long before Europeans arrived on the North American continent, the various Native American tribes had traditions and celebrations they observed around the solstice, many of them focused on family, story-telling, and gift-giving . The Zuni people celebrate Shalako with dancing and ceremony. The Blackfeet of Montana organized games in their various communities.

On Salisbury Plain in England stands ancient Stonehenge, which historians believe was built to mark the solstice. It is home to winter solstice celebrations to this day .

Along the Mississippi River, near St. Louis, stands the Cahokia Mounds , or what some call "Woodhenge," which features a structure of wooden posts seemingly built to track the sun, in much the same way Stonehenge does, for the purposes of ritual and celebration.

Humanity, it seems, robbed on the solstice of the fullness of the sun's light and warmth, has, across its spectrum of race and culture, created traditions that seek to replace that literal light and warmth with figurative alternatives found in family and fellowship.

Today we spend so much of our time focused on what divides us. I'm as guilty of that as anyone. It can be a depressing reality.

So there's solace in what humanity -- all of humanity throughout recorded history and across the varieties of culture and geography -- does in its darkest and coldest moments.

We turn inward. We replace natural warmth and light with equivalents found in one another.

Friends, fellowship, food, and faith that the sun will shine on us all again.

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Have a wonderful holiday, my friends.

To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at rport@forumcomm.com .

Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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