19 December 2013

Winter Light

I was going to write a deep, thought-provoking post today, but then I thought, Naaah, it's Christmas time. It's supposed to be about being jolly, and holly, and other things ending in -olly. (That's a shameless quote from Terry Pratchett's Hogfather. Thank you, Sir Terry.) So I decided to think about Christmassy things instead.

Early this morning, I dreamt that I had had to move to Australia quite suddenly. And as we were carrying things into our house there, I felt really disoriented, because I had no idea where anything was in that town, or how things are done Down Under - I woke up still thinking I should google the place, so I could at least see on a map of Australia where I was and then perhaps find the nearest grocery store. Anyway, the point of my telling you this: I got to thinking: I don't know that I would like being Down Under for Christmas. It would seem really weird - kind of wrong - to have Christmas in the middle of summer. Christmas needs darkness, and cold, and winter, at least for this Northerner it does.

Part of the fun and atmosphere of the Christmas celebration is the lights, and they need darkness to set them off. This year we put up perhaps the charlie-browniest of Charlie-Brown-trees ever (Love it. It came from the woods behind our house.). And for all its sad, thin branches, once the lights were on, it was transformed. It's beautiful. The light shines in the darkness - that's what Christmas is all about, isn't it?

And then there's winter sunlight. It has a completely different quality about it than sunlight at the other times of the year. Some years ago, I was looking at an art book, in which the author was demonstrating how to turn a summer photo of a wooded landscape into a snow scene. But the problem was that what she was doing didn't work. The author lived somewhere south, might have been Southern California, and by her own admission had never really seen a snowy landscape. The snow was painted well enough, with blue shadows and all, but the angle of the light was all wrong. She just kept the shadows cast by the sun in her southern-latitudes photo, but a sun that high would never produce snowy weather; her summer-sun snow painting felt really bizarre to me. A winter scene in the Northern latitudes is determined more by the angle of the light than by the snow lying on the ground. See? Those trees are most emphatically winter trees, sitting on my kitchen counter with the winter noon sun shining on them through my south-facing window.

I love winter light, the low, slanted noon sunlight falling through my window, and the sparkling, twinkling, warm light of candles and Christmas trees at night. And soon, very soon, the light will turn, and all will gradually become brighter again. The sun will rise in the morning when I need to get up, and then long before I need to get up (and I will grumble at it then), and the darkness will be, yet again, banished to its short night time. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness shall not prevail.

Incidentally, none of this means that if any of you Kiwis or Ozzies wanted to invite me for Christmas (and pay the airfare), I'd turn down the invitation. I might not want to move Down Under, but I'd love to come for a visit!

Life, the Universe, and Light in the Darkness. Winter will pass soon enough.

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