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December 21, 2004

Winter Solstice

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The Solstice is here again, arriving, as always, a few days before Christmas. The Year being a cycle, its beginning could be pegged at any point, and indeed cultures all over the world have chosen a variety of dates. For us, in the long night of the north, the Winter Solstice makes a good starting point. As we slip into survival mode in the interregnum between the harvest and the next sowing season it seems a sensible time to turn the cycle over. Weíve reached the shortest day (or longest night) and though the coldest days may lie ahead itís better to get through them early in the Year, leaving us something to look forward to.

Of course we donít actually call the Solstice by the name of the New Year, nor Christmas for that matter, but itís clear that the three are linked; a trinity at the heart of the Holiday Season. Long before the first Christmas people had taken the measure of the seasons and their days, and found this low point in the Year; extrapolating to the rebirth of Light seems only natural in this darkness, and explains why Christís birthday is fixed in this vicinity even when there is no real historical basis for the date.

So the Solstice, Christmas and New Yearís are all more or less the same Holiday, but itís a multifaceted occasion that bears a triple celebration. The Solstice must have been the original holiday, but now itís New Yearís that approaches a pagan festival, with its parties pushing towards debauchery. The Solstice is mostly a mention on the daily weather forecast, a matter of scientific calculation without much relevance to our day-to-day activities. Christmas maintains the burden of Mystery, though weíve consequently managed to turn it into a celebration of the most secular ideals of our capitalist culture.

For my part, Iíve tried to keep it close to the Earth. The Holiday ameliorates Winter, but Winter is a part of it. On three of the past four years Iíve presented a photo-essay featuring some degree of early snow as a prelude to the season. But in 2001, at least, I took a different tack, and lacking any really spectacular weather at the moment (though it certainly got good and cold yesterday) Iím going to do the same this year.

Because the Solstice isnít just Winter, itís The Holiday. Christmas, New Yearís, whatever you call it, itís clear that thereís a big holiday somewhere in this vicinity. Our biggest. And itís worth finding a legitimate way of celebrating it. One of my main ways of doing it has long been to make a Christmas card, such as I presented on the Solstice in 2001. This year Iíve collected as many of those cards as I could find, going back into the 1980ís, and Iíve archived them on the web.

Thus I humbly present:

The Official Arboretum Christmas Card Garden

This is in the nature of a homemade and slightly used Christmas present to my readership, but I like to think it has some value. The collection includes cards that few will remember, as well as outtakes, alternate versions, extended editions, and a much improved scan of the '01 card.

The Slideshow is the best way to view the gallery: an edited walk through the collection with brief commentary.
A Thumbnail overview is also available.

How many Christmases can you remember?
These are some of mine.
But if youíre wondering about this year, well, youíll just have to waitÖ

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