Two things about today ....
Today is the last day of the long holiday weekend, and like most end-of-holiday weekend, I greet the evening with a mixture of sadness that it is over and relief that is. Sadness because visiting family have returned home, the trappings of the weekend put away, my son has departed to go back to school, and Thanksgiving is over for this year. Relief for much of the same reasons. Sometimes the break from the routine, even when you enjoy it, is too disruptive. While I would relish a few additional vacation days -- I'm down to only a few more that I can take off from work -- there is something about the rhythm of the normal routines.
Today is the first day of Advent, the start of the Christian holiday season. While retailers have been promoting the secular Christmas for what seems like weeks, the official 'kick-off' of the season generally starts on the day after Thanksgiving. The lights have gone up on trees and houses around the neighborhood. Our neighbors across the street have decorated a very, very tall evergreen with white lights. Not to be outdone, the house next to them have strung lights on two tall oaks. On one multi-colored lights merely twist around the trunk towards the top branches. On the other, white lights encircle the trunk, while green lights at the top form an outline that makes the tree look like a palm tree. I'm not sure that there is any symbolism to a palm tree, but I like the idea of something reminiscent of warmer climates on the snow-sprinkled slope of a ravine in the heartland of the country where palms are only found inside conservatories.
Light: it seems a natural that many people in northern latitudes would have celebrated the idea of light during a time when the hours of sunlight decrease so dramatically in the weeks before the solstice. How could one not recognize that rhythm of the earth? No wonder that as the Roman Empire spread throughout Northern Europe, church officials co-opted the feast of Saturnalia to fit their new religion. The cycle of light - dark - light, paralleling the fertile - fallow - new growth patterns of crops, is so obvious to a casual observer, much less people whose lives were ruled by the seasons, any effort to block out such celebrations would have been futile. Even knowing the origin of the light and new birth symbolism in the Roman's Saturnalia, I can embrace these metaphors as part of my faith because they make sense to celebrate. Nor was this concept of light and illumination vs. darkness unknown to the early Christians; one can find it in the Hebrew Scriptures as well. If you're interested in such things, you may want to check out Jan Richardson's blog, The Advent Door during this season of liturgical preparation for Christmas.
Two things about Tomorrow...
Another kind of light, that of the night sky, will provide a treat tomorrow. Jupiter and Venus will be in conjunction, appearing close together in the early evening sky. This occurs twice (once in morning sky, once in evening sky) every two years. Tomorrow, December 1, not only will they be in conjunction, but they will form a triangle with a slivered crescent moon. If the sky is clear enough, you will be able to see the rest of the moon as well. Sometimes referred to as earthshine, the phenomena also is called the old moon in the young moon's arms. Isn't that a lovely description of it? Read more about the conjunction and the brilliantly lit trio at Space.com or see this Yahoo article. Here is a picture of how the moon, Jupiter and Venus will be aligned tomorrow.
On a more serious note, and quite the opposite of light and life, tomorrow is World AIDS Day. UNAIDS estimates that there are an estimated 33 million people infected with HIV. 22 million of those infected live in sub-Saharan Africa. While AIDS can be a manageable disease that one can live with in the West, in developing countries, it remains a death sentence for most. If you read or hear anyone saying how there is too much money going to AIDS, that the infection rates have slowed and that people can now live with this disease, don't accept that at face value. That is true if you exclude Africa. What is the difference between AIDS in the West and Africa? Money, access to appropriate healthcare, treatment. Educate yourself about the facts. Avert.org is one place to start. Read the executive summary of the 2008 UNAIDS report on the global AIDS epidemic. An excellent book to read is 28 stories of AIDS in Africa by Stephanie Nolen. You can read about a remarkable program in Eldoret, Kenya here.
What can you do to recognize World Aids Day? Educate yourself and others. Raise Awareness. Raise funds. Donate.