Festivals of Light

There’s something that’s long fascinated me about the winter solstice: the uniquely human way we respond to it, and the universality of that response. Animals respond to the onset of winter either by migrating or by hibernating. Our earliest ancestors generally migrated too, following the animals and their food sources. But at some point, in addition to harnessing fire, they also learned to salt and cure meat and to dry and preserve fruits and vegetables in anticipation of cold, lean months with few sources of fresh food.

That bit of technology is pretty extraordinary in itself, if you think about it: being able to live semi-independently of what nature readily provides at any given time. And then, people all over the world saw a need to determine in a very precise way when to expect the changing of the seasons in order to further assert control over their own circumstances. Astonishingly accurate astronomical and calendar traditions arose independently everywhere in the world, from the northwest corner of Europe to the Middle East, China and India and throughout the Americas, stretching back over 4000 years.

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Humans are pretty amazing. What’s even more amazing is how much we tend to think the same way, regardless of our wildly diverse environments.

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