When I talk to the kids about why the Winter Solstice is a big deal, the explanation usually involves people in the far away long ago who noticed the dark was getting longer, and longer, and longer, and became fearful that the daylight might dwindle away to nothing and it would be cold and dark forever. This makes sense to the children but of course it isn't entirely accurate, since anyone past the age of about seven who lives in a climate with seasons can understand how winter comes and goes, and thousands of years ago wasn't any different.
Of course that millenia-ago seven-year-old would also possess a stark understanding that even if the light and warmth come back, you very well might not if you don't have enough to eat. That aside, it's easy enough to tell that pared-down solstice story, especially if you're using it as a backdrop for Christmas or Chanukah, and come away with a smug sense of scientific superiority. Jeez, how silly can you be to think the sun might go away forever? Stupid cavemen! Ha!
Except that the very same thing happens to me every dingdang year. December 1 rolls around and I'm excited about the evergreen smell in the air and the bleak black branches against the gray sky, hot chocolate and snowflakes...until two weeks later, when the reality of OH MY HELL IT GETS DARK AT 4:30 sets in. Where's the sun? screams a tiny Cro-Magnon lady deep inside my brain. Where'd it gooooo? It's never coming back!
But it does. Every year. There are still two solid months left of cold (well, in Nashville), but the light's a little longer each day. And unlike the handed-down stories of the light that didn't go out or the light born unto the world, this miracle is tangible. It's a lived miracle that comes every year and ought to humble us more than it does.
As I write this, most of northern Europe is experiencing record cold and snow. Parts of the U.S. have as well. This was the year of the 1000-year flood in Nashville, and horrific floods in Pakistan. Scan the weather headlines for words like "record" "unusual" "extreme" and "worst in 100 years" and you'll see the real-world version of what the climate change models have predicted: widespread instability. Extremes. We done messed it up good, people.
But the sun still comes back. We haven't broken that yet.
(You know, I looked at this and thought, well, many of us do consider those other miracles lived experiences. I just mean that in a very literal sense, we were not there when the Maccabees cleaned up the temple and lit the menorah, etc etc.)